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Plastics exports to China 'halved after Green Fence'

The UK’s export of plastics to China has halved following the introduction of the Green Fence operation, a Chinese plastics trade body has indicated.

The China Scrap Plastics Association (CSPA) has released data suggesting that by November 2013, six months after the start of the Chinese authorities’ clampdown on the import of low quality recyclate, exports from the UK had declined 53% year-on-year.

The UK suffered the second largest drop in exports after France, whose trade declined by 78%. Australian exports reduced by 53%, while US exports fell 18%.

Southeast Asian countries might have contributed to filling the gap, CSPA’s executive president Steve Wong suggested, as exports from Thailand to China increased by 147% and those from Taiwan and Malaysia were up 37% and 3% respectively.

“The Green Fence action in 2013 has influenced the scrap plastics imports fundamentally to a large degree,” Wong said.

The figures also indicate that plastics exports to China decreased by 13% year-on-year with polystyrene the material most affected, down 57%, followed by PVC by 26%. In contrast, polypropylene was up 5%.

As part of the Green Fence Operation, which started in February 2013, Chinese authorities stepped up controls at ports to enforce quality requirements on the import of waste materials. The operation was intended to last until the end of 2013, but it is generally understood that higher import standards are still in place.

Wong said economic factors are also underplaying the reduction in plastics export from Europe and the US, including higher labour and good costs in China, which have increased less in other southeast Asian markets such as Vietnam.

The US and European countries have also invested in technological innovations that cut the costs of production and made domestic reprocessing more appealing, he said.

Simon Ellin, chief executive at the Recycling Association:

“The market for recyclable plastics is not as developed as the market for waste paper - the UK market is continuing to develop, as is the European market and to a degree, these markets have diverted material from China.

“Recyclable plastics are generally very variable in their quality and mix, and in the background of China Green Fence, exporters have not been prepared to take risks.

“It is phenomenally expensive to repatriate a box of rejected material – in the region of $5-6000 dollars per container and exporters have not been prepared to take on this risk. This is the major reason why plastic exports to China have slowed down.”

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