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Plastics threat as China tightens import regs

Plastic recyclers fear the export market could be further weakened by stricter Chinese import regulations.

China has tightened the rules in a bid to improve and standardise imports of “solid waste”. They affect the requirement for a pre-shipment inspection certificate, identification of the company sending the waste, proof of the company receiving it, port inspection, customs supervision and the import licence.

Only waste for use as a raw material for recycling can be imported. Practices banned by the regulations are: dumping of waste, stockpiling, disposal of overseas waste in China, importing of hazardous waste and importing solid waste to be used as feedstock for energy from waste plants.

China takes 88% of UK plastic exports. Recyclers are concerned that the tighter rules will put downward pressure on prices. 

Eco Plastics head of procurement Charlie Flounders said: “In recent weeks new legislation in the Far East has left uncertainty over export. This may lead to more material on the market and therefore a drop in price as supply begins to overtake demand.  We have seen fairly strong competition from the export market in recent months so it will be an interesting to see where the market settles in light of these new rules.”

Regain Polymers purchasing director Bernard Chase says recyclers have previous experience of such changes: “It seems that sometimes these outpourings are to help Chinese consumption rather than everyone else. China wants to encourage their own infrastructure by focusing on internal collections and therefore are not letting so much in from other countries.

“If China takes in less material, it will be the orders for low quality grades that will deplete but they will still compete aggressively for higher quality material.

“We may see some price corrections. We are seeing jittery stock markets and if demand from China begins to disappear prices will fall. However, buying from mainland Europe has been strong, which could bolster the market but obviously with economic problems in the Eurozone too, anything could happen.”

It is widely agreed in the materials sector that the reason for China’s approach is a result of the dwindling quality of material being received. TQ Recycling managing director David Newman told MRW that China had recently turned away some loads of plastic from another recycler due to the poor quality of the material.

China is also a significant importer of UK paper and paper recyclers welcome the country’s bid to tackle to quality issue.

Mark Lyndon Paper Enterprises (UK) managing director Paul Briggs said: “I think it is really good that those not playing by the rules are going to be stopped and we can have a level playing field to work from if we are all legal and providing the same quality.”

Current research by MRW/WRAP supports the view, showing a price drop for lower grade plastics but an increase in the higher grades.

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