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Fresh fears over new Chinese import restrictions

An announcement from China’s ministry of environmental protection (MEP) indicates a much wider crackdown on imports of secondary materials than previously feared, with a senior industry figure in the UK calling the move “draconian”.

MRW exclusive

200 MRW exclusive

A document posted in Chinese on the ministry’s website on 17 August has been interpreted as setting a maximum contamination rate of 0.3% (‘out-throw’) on all grades coming into China by the end of the year.

It is also being suggested that all post-consumer plastic packaging and mixed papers will be banned. Previous indications of what materials may be banned has been unclear.

Simon Ellin, chief executive of the Recycling Association (RA), the bulk of whose members are in the paper industry, called the situation “a little hazy” because of the potential for misunderstanding and lack of clarity in the Chinese language document.

China is giving little time for international feedback. MRW understands that CCIC London, the certification and inspection organisation for secondary materials leaving the UK and Ireland, has been given until 25 August to report back to the MEP. As a result, Ellin was compiling an RA response to reach CCIC later today.

Ellin said a 0.3% limit on materials being accepted for import could lead to the conclusion that this was a de facto ban. It would be impossible to meet such a limit in the short term, he said, because of the major changes required along the supply chain.

He added that the development was hard to take after the efforts made by his members to boost quality through its ’Quality First’ campaign.

“We have put in place significant progress on quality, which is high on everyone’s agenda. Such a draconian implementation would fly in the face of what’s gone before,” Ellin said.

He also thought that strangling the flow of mixed papers into China would hit domestic mills, which would be forced to buy higher quality – and more expensive – OCC.

Exporters from the UK of papers, plastics and metals have been coming to terms with China’s National Sword operation which, when it was introduced this summer, established a more rigorous inspection and licensing regime. As well as the added threat of shipments being returned, Chinese facilities and operators face tougher licensing restrictions.

The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) has made representations to the World Trade Organization in response to China’s intent to ban certain scrap imports. Excerpts from ISRI’s response: “ISRI fully supports the efforts of the Chinese government to improve environmental protection and standards within its domestic recycling infrastructure. However, we disagree that a ban on the import of specification‐grade scrap materials will help with those efforts…

”For recycled commodities such as recovered paper and fibre, plastic scrap and copper scrap, China accounts for more than half of the world’s total imports. Thus, any change in Chinese policy concerning the import of these commodities will be quickly felt around the world…

“There is a need to distinguish scrap from waste within the notification, as well as in the underlying regulations and related notices issued by the Chinese, in order to properly identify those materials for which the government intends to truly impose a ban, while at the same time providing clarity for the exporting community as to what products are permissible for import…

“The US recycling industry stands ready to help China [in preventing] deficient practices that harm the physical environment in China. The US industry also supports the Government of China’s efforts to improve domestic collection, processing and distribution of scrap materials, and welcomes the opportunity to provide information and training on operational best practices. US industry can share information and analysis of market conditions and how to develop supply chains to ensure the efficient use of scrap materials, especially with environmental sustainability in mind. We also recommend that the Chinese government officially recognises industry‐wide standards as outlined in the ISRI Specifications Circular.”

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