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China's crackdown is the 'new normal'

Steve Wong

China is determined to improve the environmental condition of its country as a result of mounting pressure from citizens, the media and policy change.

While plastic recycling can sometimes be one of the industries responsible for pollution, the government’s intention is to crack down on all recycling operations without proper controls and facilities.

This policy will become a ‘new normal’ for China in the future. Imported waste, in particular e-waste and plastic waste fractions, has been highlighted as ‘foreign waste’ and identified as an origin of severe pollution, caused partly as a result of the recycling being carried out at small workshops without proper facilities.

A one-year anti-smuggling campaign, becoming known as ‘National Sword 2017’, was put into action at the General Administration of Customs (GAC) meeting on 7 February with the implementation of border gate controls.

Some regard this campaign as the second ‘Green Fence’, and a few of the features that will have an impact on the business are:

  • Customs checks will be made on 100% of imported materials, and will increase the lead-time by up to four times and incur additional reloading cost
  • The police and the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) will work with China Customs to expose the use of dummy factories and the use of a ‘licence of convenience’
  • Many forwarding agents have suspended operation as a result of the action. The arrest of a few customs declaration agents and importers of illegal shipments was reported in February
  • Cases of shipment repatriation to loading port is seen now

The EPD is conducting high-profile inspections of processing factories and suspending recycling operations at facilities without proper water treatment.

Nationwide action was carried out by the GAC on 24 February, and ports in Guangdong, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Huangpu, Qingdao, Tianjin, Ningbo, Shanghai and Nanjing have been targeted. This crackdown has so far resulted in 15 smuggling operations being exposed, the arrest of 90 suspects and confiscation of 22,100 tonnes of foreign waste including WEEE, household waste and plastic waste.

The GAC reported through Chinese television on action conducted on the same day. It was stressed by GAC chief Yu Guangzhou that the organisation is determined to block illegal foreign waste from coming to China in order to protect the ecology and maintain peoples’ health and safety.

We believe the trend will be to restrict imports of solid waste but allow non-polluting scraps such as recycled regrinds and pellets, which can be used directly for production.

But recycling is being encouraged, and China is determined to increase the recycling rate from its own commercial and domestic waste streams, including plastic packaging and WEEE. Legislation is being written now for vehicles. Nevertheless the additional cost of compliance is an issue that drags down the competitiveness of bona-fide recyclers.

The actions of the government will go some way to remove the unfair advantage gained by illegal operators.

Steve Wong is executive president of the China Scrap Plastics Association, chairman of Fukutomi Company and committee member of the Bureau of International Recycling’s plastics and WEEE committees


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