Chinese Sword and 'no-deal’ Brexit could create golden opportunity for UK waste industry


As Brexit discussions intensify, the question remains: can the UK domestically manage the 3.6 million tons of waste currently exported to the EU every year?

A recent report by the Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) industry group has revealed that 3.6 million tons of rubbish are exported to the EU annually. This is currently traded tariff-free, but in the event of a no-deal or ‘hard’ Brexit, the government has warned of 7.5% taxes on the waste the UK exports, as well as potential issues with ports and transport. Couple this with a weakened pound against the Euro, and exporting trash to the EU may no longer economically viable.

However, Brexit is not the only issue the waste industry has had to deal with in the past few months: China’s National Sword program has put restrictions on the standard of recycling the region accepts. China traditionally took 494,000 tons of the UK’s plastic and 1.4 million tons of recovered paper per year, but due to strict limits on contamination much of the UK’s waste is now being exported to countries with already very high levels of marine litter such as Turkey and Malaysia.

Vacha Dam, Bulgaria.
Vacha Dam, Bulgaria


With the UK’s landfills at maximum capacity, both the Scottish and UK Governments have been looking at ways Britain can manage its own waste more efficiently. One such way is through a deposit return scheme for recycling beverage containers, and both governments have announced they will be implementing one in the near future. Scotland is currently first out of the starting gates, having recently finished its governmental consultation period.

Stefan Ranstrand, CEO and President of resource sustainability company TOMRA Systems ASA, says, “Through every challenge there is a chance to look at the way we do things and how we can improve them. The UK has a golden opportunity to make its economy more circular; managing its own refuse will not only bring environmental benefits, but financial too.”

Deposit return schemes are becoming an increasingly popular way for countries to manage their own waste, and they can double collection rates for plastic, aluminum and glass beverage containers. These higher return rates are achieved because a small deposit is added to the price of a beverage, which is only refunded once the consumer has returned the empty drink container for recycling. This financial incentive is a proven method to bring recycling rates up to as high as 98%.

“Implementing a deposit return system is an excellent start, we have seen how beneficial these schemes can be across the world,” Stefan continues.

“However, we cannot stop there. The UK can look at optimizing the way it recycles, improving sustainability and operational value. By investing in better recycling technology rather than outsourcing waste, the recycling industry will see higher purity levels, meaning less material in landfills and less environmental pollution." 

TOMRA Collection Solutions is the world leader in the field of reverse vending, with over 82,000 installations across more than 60 markets. These reverse vending machines collect 35 billion containers a year through deposit return schemes.

“We need to start seeing a value in our rubbish as a resource – a material of value, and not something to be simply exported or disposed of. A deposit return system will complement curbside collection and other mixed waste recycling, helping to capture the largest volume of litter whilst supporting re-use and guaranteeing the highest recycling quantity and quality.

“However, to ensure that we efficiently manage our waste in a post-Brexit environment, the UK government should make a strong commitment to invest in the technical solutions that facilitate re-use and closed-loop recycling, complementing and improving the technology that already exists, optimizing sustainability and operational value.

“Ensuring that the UK’s waste is predominately sorted domestically will not only provide economic benefits and create green jobs, but it will have a wider effect: helping the UK population see a value in their waste, a material that cannot be simply discarded but a resource that can be reused again and again. With our planet facing a waste crisis, the UK can be an example on how to live more sustainably and recycle more efficiently,” Stefan concludes.

TOMRA AUTOSORT: used for sorting multiple application streams like beverage cartons, paper, organic waste, and wires.
TOMRA AUTOSORT: used for sorting multiple application streams like beverage cartons, paper, organic waste, and wires

About TOMRA Collection Solutions:

Founded in 1972, TOMRA is the preferred partner for reverse vending solutions for collecting, reusing and recycling cans and bottles. The TOMRA system has the machines, digital solutions and service to make recycling easy for the industry, system owners, retailers and consumers. With over 82,000 installations across more than 60 markets, TOMRA’s reverse vending machines capture 35 billion used beverage containers every year – reducing reliance on raw materials and ensuring fewer containers end up in landfills, oceans and streets. Visit our Reverse Vending pages on www.tomra.com, and follow us on Facebook, InstagramTwitter and LinkedIn.

TOMRA Collection Solutions is part of the TOMRA Group, which creates sensor-based solutions for optimal resource productivity, and has a vision to lead the Resource Revolution. The Group employs approximately 3,550 people globally and is publicly listed on the Oslo Stock Exchange (OSE: TOM).

About TOMRA Sorting Recycling:

TOMRA Sorting Recycling designs and manufactures sensor-based sorting technologies for the global recycling and waste management industry. Over 5,500 systems have been installed in almost 80 countries worldwide.

Responsible for developing the world’s first high-capacity near infrared (NIR) sensor for waste sorting applications, TOMRA Sorting Recycling remains an industry pioneer with a dedication to extracting high purity fractions from waste streams that maximize both yield and profits.

TOMRA Sorting Recycling is part of TOMRA Sorting Solutions which also develops sensor-based systems for sorting, peeling and process analytics for the food, mining and other industries.

TOMRA Sorting is owned by Norwegian company TOMRA Systems ASA, which is listed on the Oslo Stock Exchange. Founded in 1972, TOMRA Systems ASA has a turnover of around €750m and employs more than 3,500 people.

For more information on TOMRA Sorting Recycling visit www.tomra.com/recycling or follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook.