Revealed - Where Suffolk's recycling waste is shipped to

A bin full of the right recycling.

Suffolk Waste Partnership has published data on where recycling materials from the county are sent - Credit: Suffolk County Council.

The final destinations for Suffolk's recycling waste have been revealed - with global spots like India and Vietnam among those to take thousands of tonnes of card and paper waste.

Data published on the Suffolk Recycling website provides a breakdown of the top nations to take in Suffolk's recycling waste for 2019/20, the most recent year available.

For steel and aluminium cans, the overwhelming majority - 3,470 tonnes out of the 3,605 collected last year, or 96% - were processed in the UK, with 121 tonnes going to Germany.

For plastic, 5,628 tonnes of the total 8,635 collected last year were re-processed in the UK, while other nations including Turkey (1,307 tonnes), Romania (509 tonnes), Netherlands (429 tonnes) and Germany (274 tonnes) took our waste.

But for paper and card, thousands of tonnes of Suffolk's waste was being exported abroad.


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A quarter of all Suffolk's 6,856 tonnes of card collected annually was shipped to Vietnam, while India took 23.4%, China 17.7% and Indonesia 15.1%. Just 0.7% remained in the UK for processing.

Meanwhile, for the 24,530 tonnes of paper from Suffolk, the UK processed only slightly more (28.5% or 6,980 tonnes) than it shipped to India (23.4% or 6,500 tonnes). Indonesia was another to receive large amounts at 4,270 tonnes or 17.4%.

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Suffolk County Council Green councillor Andrew Stringer feared there could be a carbon debt from shipping vast amounts abroad, and said he would like to see more investment to close off the loop and process recycling waste in the UK.

Opposition Green councillor Andrew Stringer questioned the budget setting. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Green councillor Andrew Stringer said there should be more investment to process recycling waste in the UK - Credit: Archant

A spokesman from Suffolk Waste Partnership said: "Exporting materials for recycling is still a far better environmental option than not recycling. One of the reasons is because exports are often taken in shipping containers which would otherwise travel back empty on their return journeys.

"As with many other modern industries, the recycling industry is global. Many of the manufactured products we use come from overseas, in particular Asia, therefore there is a higher demand for certain types of materials in these countries and they often have a far larger capacity for recycling certain materials than in the UK. Paper and card make up the majority of exported materials, whereas 96% of metal and 65% of plastic collected from Suffolk was recycled in the UK in 2019/20."

The team said that the UK currently does not have the capacity to process and recycle all its own waste, which the government was looking to address with a new resource and waste strategy. That was first published in December 2018, and it is understood consultation on those proposals is still ongoing.

The team has also given assurances that the waste is actually recycled when it leaves the UK, explaining: "Exported materials will go to Environment Agency accredited and licensed processing facilities where they are transformed into ready to use materials e.g. plastic pellets/flakes and are therefore no longer a waste product.

Where Suffolk's recycling waste goes

Metal

Destination

Tonnes

Percentage

UK

3,470

96.3%

Germany

121

3.4%

Greece

14

0.4%

Total

3,605

Card

Destination

Tonnes

Percentage

Vietnam

1,756

25.6%

India

1,603

23.4%

China

1,216

17.7%

Indonesia

1,038

15.1%

Taiwan

633

9.2%

Thailand

235

3.4%

Pakistan

182

2.7%

Turkey

148

2.2%

UK

45

0.7%

Total

6,856

Paper

Destination

Tonnes

Percentage

UK

6,980

28.5%

India

6,500

26.5%

Indonesia

4,270

17.4%

China

2,139

8.7%

Vietnam

1,924

7.8%

Germany

1,435

5.9%

Thailand

966

3.9%

Netherlands

244

1%

Turkey

40

<1%

South Korea

30

<1%

Malaysia

2

<1%

Belgium

<1

<1%

Total

24,530

Plastics

Destination

Tonnes

Percentage

UK

5,628

65.2%

Turkey

1,307

15.1%

Romania

509

5.9%

Netherlands

429

5%

Germany

274

3.2%

Spain

143

1.7%

France

113

1.3%

Ukraine

78

<1%

Italy

52

<1%

Thailand

31

<1%

Russia

25

<1%

Portugal

20

<1%

Taiwan

12

<1%

Slovenia

10

<1%

Greece

2

<1%

Slovakia

2

<1%

Contaminants

8,921

17%

Total

8,635


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