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Revealed: Why Norfolk’s recycling is shipped 13,000 miles away to China rather than King’s Lynn

PUBLISHED: 06:00 22 November 2017 | UPDATED: 12:50 22 November 2017

Steve Jenkins, contracts manager, with the baled quality standard paper for China at the NEWS recycling plant at Costessey. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Steve Jenkins, contracts manager, with the baled quality standard paper for China at the NEWS recycling plant at Costessey. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2017

Waste paper collected from Norfolk households is being shipped 13,000 miles away to China for recycling – rather than being processed here.

David Newell, operations director with baled quality standard paper for China at the NEWS recycling plant at Costessey. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY David Newell, operations director with baled quality standard paper for China at the NEWS recycling plant at Costessey. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Around 38,000 tonnes of the material is sent to the Far East each year, despite similar recycling facilities existing 40 miles away in King’s Lynn.

Norse Environmental Waste Services (NEWS), which handles the county’s dry, mixed recycling, said this was because the Chinese market pays more.

But the news has led to questions about how environmentally-friendly Norfolk’s recycling scheme really is.

Norwich Green Party councillor Denise Carlo said people would be “horrified” to learn where their waste was really going.

And she accused Norfolk’s councils of “pulling the wool over people’s eyes” about the issue.

The Quality Check Cabin with line operators sorting out contaminants from the paper at the NEWS recycling plant at Costessey. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY The Quality Check Cabin with line operators sorting out contaminants from the paper at the NEWS recycling plant at Costessey. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

NEWS had previously sent paper waste from its Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) in Costessey to the UPM paper mill in Deeside, North Wales.

But when the company closed one of its newsprint machines in 2015, NEWS had to find an alternative.

While Norfolk County Council’s website states the material is still sent to UPM, in reality it is shipped out to China, Vietnam and India.

This is despite the Palm Paper recycling facility being located just 41 miles away in King’s Lynn.

NEWS, which is contracted by Norfolk’s seven district, borough and city councils, is paid by paper mills for the material it sends them.

The Palm Paper Factory near King's Lynn. The Palm Paper Factory near King's Lynn.

Operations director David Newell said: “Because China consumes such a large body of material, financially, the deal we have on behalf of Norfolk councils is the best we will get at this point in time.”

He said NEWS, which is part of the Norfolk County Council-owned company Norse, had attempted to engage with Palm Paper.

But Mr Newell said the material processed at Costessey did not meet the company’s specifications.

“From a logistics perspective, it would be fantastic,” he said. “But in reality it is not going to happen.”

He said in order for the same waste to be recycled locally, people could have to pay more through their council tax, as NEWS would have to charge councils higher fees to recover its loses.

A spokesman for Palm Paper, meanwhile, said it was willing to work with NEWS to take on its paper waste, so long as it met its requirements. The company said it had several contracts with other councils across the UK.

“Palm would always look to work with NEWS and the Norfolk local authorities to provide an outlet for kerbside collected paper,” the spokesman said.

Mr Newell said part of the reason why Palm Paper would not accept material from NEWS was due to a previous decision made by Norfolk’s councils.

In 2014, they allowed for glass bottles and jars to be collected in recycling bins.

The decision led to an £8m revamp of NEWS’ MRF, allowing it to process the material alongside paper waste.

But it meant that paper could be contaminated with glass.

“Because of the way we have designed our facility, we shake all glass out and we get a very good end material,” he said.

“But there is always a nervousness from mills because of that perception.

“That was partly why we did not go further with Palm Paper.”

Norwich Green Party councillor Denise Carlo said by sending waste to China, the UK was out-sourcing its pollution.

According to the European Commission, international shipping is a growing source of greenhouse gas, and by 2050 it is projected to increase by 250pc.

Ms Carlo said: “It just shows you that the environmental impact of transport is not taken into account. It is pulling the wool over people’s eyes because people think they are doing their bit with recycling.

“If people knew that the paper they are putting into recycling bins is going off to China, they would be horrified.”

The Norfolk Waste Partnership, which is made up of the county’s seven councils, said waste was recycled in the most environmental and cost-effective way.

A spokesman said paper waste is loaded onto empty containers on ships delivering goods from China to lower the carbon footprint.

“It goes without saying if we could reprocess recycled waste closer to home that would be a good thing, but it has to be cost-effective.”

• Read about how odour complaints at a Marsham composting facility led to food waste being recycled in Northamptonshire

Where else does Norfolk’s recycling go?

NEWS processes around 83,500 tonnes of mixed, dry recyclable waste on behalf of Norfolk’s borough, city and district councils each year.

The material is sorted at NEWS’ recycling facility before being marketed and sold on.

It includes:

• 38,000 tonnes of waste paper, which goes to China, India and Vietnam.

• 6,200 tonnes of cardboard to China.

• 825 tonnes of aluminium cans which go to Hartlepool.

• 1,600 tonnes of PET plastic bottles to Holland.

• 850 tonnes of HDPe plastic bottles to various locations in the UK.

• 20,500 tonnes of glass to various UK locations.

In July, China announced it was to stop taking lower quality waste paper.

Meanwhile, a failed £500m Norfolk County Council project to build an incinerator in King’s Lynn means other non-recyclable waste now has to be sent to an incinerator in Ipswich and to Europe. It is not handled by NEWS.

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