The noise surrounding plastic pollution is reaching new heights. Naturally, however, emphasising one issue alleviates the focus on another. David Coleman discusses whether other waste materials are being given a back seat, and where their place is under China’s import ban

2018 undoubtedly delivered a heavy focus on plastic pollution. The continuous outpour of initiatives – from brands, organisations and activists alike – fuelled ongoing awareness of the issue. On top of this, China’s ban on imported waste, which came into action early last year, has forced the UK to turn its head elsewhere for alternative solutions.

The reliance on China seems to have been removed as abruptly as a rug pulled from beneath the feet of our economy. The waste management structure we’ve maintained for decades has been ruptured as a result, coercing the UK into a new plan.

While most see this as an issue mainly concerning our plastic waste management, we may be ignoring one vital aperture. Other materials, such as rubber, paper and cardboard, can still be imported, so long as they’re in the appropriate condition and not contaminated when baled. This is because it’s then more likely to be accepted by China, and the value may increase on more ‘pure’ bales.

Therefore, whilst our current plastics situation is a cause for necessary concern, we mustn’t rest on our laurels when it comes to other recyclable materials.

The holistic view
In the wake of the plastics panic, other recyclable materials could well be becoming of lesser importance. A report by Defra revealed the drastic rise of 110 per cent of paper and cardboard being sent to landfill from 2013 to 2016. When it arrives here, it begins to rot and subsequently produce harmful greenhouse gases.

To efficiently move towards a more circular economy, we needn’t forget all types of waste materials. As is commonly the case, reshaping perspectives and efforts is a difficult and strenuous task. So, where do we begin?

China and controls on contamination
With China’s stricter rules on imported waste, altering our current waste management is mandatory. Each year, the UK sends around three million tonnes of cardboard waste to China. However, with the new restrictions in place, this figure is likely to decrease. With that in mind, it’s important to ensure the separation of waste materials, creating what’s called ‘perfect bales’. These can effectively ensure that cardboard materials, for instance, are collated ready to be sent off with recycling companies.

In warehouses, for example, it’s easy to lose control over materials mixing. However, implementing an adequate waste management plan could allow you to benefit from ROI as well as many logistical advantages too. These include freer storage space, less hazardous risks (blocked escape routes), reduced outgoing costs on transportation and a reduced overall carbon footprint.

Sports Direct
Despite the perceived concern around China’s new ban, many companies are embracing the change and doing the right thing. One example of this is Sports Direct. The national sports retailer has implemented an effective waste management strategy, which includes assigning specific waste materials to different balers. For example, it bales plastic waste via HSM V-Press balers and cardboard materials through automated VK channel baling presses. This is to maximise ‘pure bales’, resulting in higher value and an over-all more straight-forward process and effective end result.

Martyn Joyce, Facility Manager at Sports Direct, commented: “These policies have not affected us because of our clean stream of waste processes. The cardboard boxes produced here don’t have any rubbish in them such as plastics or staples, so we’ve had no issue selling our products because of their great quality.”

Therefore, in spite of the import ban, businesses needn’t worry. Rather, they can view this as an opportunity to tighten the reins on their current recycling strategies. This includes all waste types, plastics and cardboards alike. With Sports Direct, for instance, their plan involved balers which generated ROI, reduced their overall carbon footprint and generally bettered their waste management procedures.

Value, not waste
Not only are paper and cardboard materials recyclable, they also wield a number of handy uses too. Cardboard, in particular, can both serve a number of packaging purposes as well as also acting as a substitute for certain plastic uses. One example of this is the way in which some cardboard perforators creating the ideal packaging material out of cardboard waste. This is an impressive and functional replacement for plastic packaging such as bubble-wrap, and a more sustainable option too.

Ultimately, stepping out of the familiar can often seem daunting, especially insofar as corporate strategies are concerned. However, change often comes off the back of altering and bettering our existing procedures rather than switching up entirely. Therefore, if we’re able to re-programme waste perspectives and ensure consideration of all recyclable materials, we’ll be another step closer to the sustainable future we’re working so hard to achieve.

David Coleman
David Coleman is Operations Director of HSM UK. HSM is a global pioneer of environmental and office technology, with leading product lines like HSM SECURIO, HSM V-Press, HSM shredstar and HSM Powerline manufactured in from its Germany sites. Focusing on shredding, baling and waste compacting machinery, HSM produces a range of solutions for homes, businesses, large-scale commercial operations and other institutions, with products sold in over 100 countries.
www.hsm.eu