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Chinese import figures point to lower plastic waste volumes

Official Chinese trade figures show a 5.5% year-on-year reduction in the volume of plastic waste material that entered the country in first four months of the year, with experts saying considerably more containers are now being stopped by customs officials.

The volume of waste, parings and scrap of plastics entering China decreased from 2,539,217 tonnes in the period from January to April 2012 to 2,400,800 tonnes in the same period this year, meaning a 5.5% drop, according to China Customs Information Center.

If figures for the last four months of 2012 are considered, the drop is even bigger, as volumes are down 27%.

Roger Baynham, chairman of British Plastics Federation’s recycling group, told MRW that the country’s policy, known as Operation Green Fence, was having a significant impact on plastic waste material imported by China, particularly in terms of reducing the amount of low quality material.

“It is certainly true that there is a considerable number of containers that are not cleared at customs in Chinese ports,” he said.

Baynham attended Chinaplas, an annual international event for the plastics and rubber industries in Guangzhou, China, on 20-23 May. He said that one of the issues discussed was whether the Green Fence would become a permanent feature of import control.

“The general consensus was that the Green Fence is going to be in place for a significant amount of time,” he said.

Baynham said the policy was also having an impact on UK plastic exporters and it highlighted a need to rethink the UK’s plastic recycling strategy, which for long time has been focused on the relatively easy route of exporting high volumes of collected plastic to Asia.

Other waste materials had also been affected by the Green Fence, he added.

A Chinese statement said that customs officers had stopped at least five solid waste smuggling attempts since the start of the Green Fence campaign in March.

“By the end of April, the customs administration has seized 74 kg of discarded apparatus, equipment and electronic watches through luggage check as well as 21 waste tyres through customs control,” they added.

China’s Green Fence initiative is at the top of the agenda of a recently launched subgroup of the Recycling Association focused on exports. 

Recycling Association chief executive Simon Ellin said: “As an association, we firmly support the [Green Fence] initiative and we are all behind the drive to improve quality,” he said.

One of the aims of the export subgroup is to develop best export practices. Ellin added: “The export sub-group will draw on its considerable buying, processing and selling power to drive continuous improvement and to engage all relevant parties such as CCIC [China Certification & Inspection Group Co.] and other Chinese authorities and decision makers.” 

Another aim of the group is to educate politicians, decision makers and the general public on what happens when recyclables are exported, following the association’s concerns about “some negative and anti-export sentiment” that have circulated in some quarters of the press.

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