Concern over the impending de facto ban by China on the import of a range of secondary materials, including mixed papers and plastics, was raised during several sessions of the latest Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) convention, held in India.
Robin Wiener, president of the the influential US trade group, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), told the International Environment Council that China’s actions had the potential to affect $6.5bn (£4.95bn) of annual exports from the US and 150,000 related jobs in America. Some US municipalities had stopped accepting papers and plastics in their kerbside collections, which Weiner said had been “a big force for us in raising this issue with the US government”, leading to meetings at the White House and in Congress.
Wiener said self-sufficiency in scrap was “an important driver” for the Chinese government and that the proposed 0.3% contamination level constitutes “an effective ban” because “no-one thinks they can meet that threshold”.
Although this is a view that various UK companies also share, ISRI has been the leading voice against the ban, raising concerns to relevant Government departments and seeking support for further clarification from Beijing about the materials affected. ISRI has previously stated that, although it supports the efforts of the Chinese government to clean up its environment, it wants greater clarity in the terminology that China uses to describe materials it defines as waste and high-value scrap commodities.
Secretary general of the European Recycling Industries’ Confederation, Emmanuel Katrakis, said his organisation had been gathering information from members about the impacts of China’s policy so that the European Commission can be armed with hard data when mounting its case.
Plastics committee chairman, Surendra Borad Patawari of Gemini Corporation said the plastics recycling industry had become “insanely dependent” on China and its import ban has left suppliers in other parts of the world not so much with a cold but rather with “pneumonia”. China and Hong Kong imported 9.2 million tonnes of plastics scrap in 2016 but this figure is likely to nosedive next year, he warned.
Dr Steve Wong, executive president of the China Scrap Plastics Association, said in a report that officials in China had confirmed that plastic scrap import licences will only be issued for 2018 for factories with clean records and full compliance with environmental regulations. As a result, imports into China could fall to 30-40% of current levels next year, leaving overseas suppliers to find alternative outlets for several million tonnes of scrap plastics.
The value of certain materials had fallen to below zero while plastic scrap prices within China had risen by 20-30% due to shortages, Wong said. The situation had prompted scrap processing capacities to be moved to other countries in the region such as Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam.
Wong told the committee predicted that the policy will help boost China’s domestic recycling rate from the current low level of 22%. He anticipated China’s PET collection volumes would climb from 3.1million tonnes in 2015 to 4.1million tonnes in 2018.
Mixed papers is one of the grades included in China’s proposed import restrictions. BIR president Ranjit Singh Baxi of J&H Sales International told the papaper committee that the market was predicting a 30% reduction in recovered paper volumes going to China. However, until the 0.3% contamination level had been formalised, the industry would continue to abide by the internationally-accepted threshold of 1.5% non-paper components.
Baxi called the 0.3% threshold unrealistic and questioned how it would be measured. He wondered how recycling plants could adapt to such low limits and whether they would be granted a period of up to a year to make the necessary investments in new equipment “You cannot switch your machines just like that,” he warned.
A sharp decrease in the volumes of mixed paper and OOC heading to China once the country’s import controls began to be enforced were noted. “We were confronted with a decrease of over $100 per tonne in OCC prices in a period of six weeks whereas the market grew by $125 in the December-June period,” Baxi added.
The lower grades of recovered fibre will require major investments by suppliers in quality control processes and technology, according to Andreas Uriel, managing director of German paper recycler Uriel Papierrohstoffe. “These extra costs must be covered by appropriate recovered paper prices,” he said.
Stricter customs controls have meant that the cost of bringing WEEE shipments into China is as high as $10,000 per container according to Wong. “WEEE scrap plastic recyclers have no choice but to either close down their operations or move to south east Asian countries to continue their businesses.”
The BIR E-Scrap Committee’s meta study of reliable generation and flow data is already in draft form and will be published before the May 2018 meeting in Barcelona.
The study includes a summary of per capita e-scrap production around the world and 2025 forecasts, from which it is evident that more than half of the world’s e-scrap will arise in the Asia-Pacific region.
3.2 million tonnes is generated annually in India but a United Nations report forecasts 20 million tonnes for the year 2020.
“Extremely negative” publicity continues to surround the use of tyre-derived crumb rubber in synthetic turf despite 100 studies stating no risk to human health.
BIR Tyres & Rubber Chairman Barend Ten Bruggencate of Dutch tyre collection organisation Recybem reported that TV programmes aired in the Netherlands have alleged a connection between rubber granulate and health risks to human embryos, as well as an environmental impact from leaching into the soil. “But there is no evidence,” insisted Bruggencate, he added, tests on water from underneath synthetic turf pitches have indicated that the quality is actually higher than for rainwater.
US news stories have suggested that recycled rubber fields can cause cancer in youth soccer players - but “with no specific evidence”, emphasised Robin Wiener, President of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries.
A multi-agency study involving, among others, the Environmental Protection Agency is “at least a year away” from publishing its conclusions about crumb rubber use in synthetic turf, noted Ms Wiener. It is unfortunate that “the issue is not going away until there is a definitive study issued” because on-going “speculation” has already led to a 30% market decline for crumb rubber in recent years.
She urged the research community to be categorical about the risk factor “to help parents, teachers and policy-makers understand the true risks”.
Indian aluminium recycling committee
India’s demand for secondary aluminium will increase by 8-10% per year, mainly boosted by the country’s rapidly-growing automotive industry, according to Akshay Agarwal. The
executive director of Century Metal Recycling, said “This growing scrap appetite will be met primarily by increased aluminium scrap imports.”
Secondary aluminium accounts for 30% of India’s overall aluminium consumption of 3.3 million tonnes per year. In the past six years, secondary aluminium demand has almost doubled to 1.1 million tonnes, of which 90% is imported. By 2021, demand is expected to reach 1.5 million tonnes.
In 2016, 120,000 tonnes of aluminium scrap was generated in India, with the automotive and power segments accounting for 75%. However scrap collection is unorganised and there is insufficient awareness, leading to a major proportion of scrap going to landfill.
The first car dismantling facility is scheduled to be running before the end of this year, followed by the country’s first car shredder. Mr Agarwal said this was as “baby steps to a future where you may abort scrap import dependency”. He added, although India’s domestic scrap industry is trying hard to modernise, this can be achieved only with regulatory support.
Navin Sharma, CEO of Gravita India Ltd said “where China has seen an increase in e-bikes, we see the trend of e-rickshaws growing by 20% in the coming years,” as well as “the first electric buses are on the streets already and thousands more have been ordered.”
India’s textiles recycling sector employs more than one million people and, each year, turns over $2 billion in processing 5 million tonnes of material. But despite these “astounding numbers” in terms of social and economic contribution, the sector is under pressure from increasing labour costs, a freight cost disadvantage, ageing technology, high import duties and onerous licence requirements.
For Indian companies holding licences to import post-consumer textiles. They are facing an obligation to export 100% by weight of what they bring into the country - a measure that could force businesses into closure. Having noted that all post-consumer textiles for processing are imported and that none are collected domestically, he stressed the effectiveness of recycling operations in India, with 99% of all materials being recycled. Even labels, buttons and zips are regularly sold into India’s so-called “unorganised” market.
BIR Textiles Division’s president Mehdi Zerroug of Framimex in France argued that an “open and controlled” import of used clothing into the Indian and Chinese markets would be an “extraordinary” development for the recycling industry and that BIR believed such a prospect “should be reasonably discussed”.