China’s plans to ban imports of plastics scrap, unsorted papers and other material grades at the end of the year has led to “serious concerns” from some recyclers, while others are more upbeat about developing the UK’s own capacity.
Some commentators have been unsure how definitive the Chinese intend to be, having sent notification to the World Trade Organization (WTO) on 18 July.
Some thought it would not mean outright bans on materials, but was the latest effort to improve the quality of recycled imports, following operations Green Fence and National Sword.
China told the WTO: “To protect China’s environmental interests and people’s health, we urgently adjust the imported solid wastes list and forbid the import of solid wastes that are highly polluted.”
The Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) said it had “serious concerns” and would present a submission to the WTO, criticising the short time frame to do so and it has asked for an extension (see below).
BIR director general Arnaud Brunet said: “While the BIR and its members support and promote high-quality standards for scrap exports, this ban, if implemented, will have a serious impact on the global recycling industry which has, in the last 25 years, supported China in its economic development and growth and met its manufacturing needs for secondary raw materials.”
In 2016, China imported seven million tonnes of plastic scrap, mainly from Europe, Japan and the US. It imported 25 million tonnes of paper, of which 25-30% was mixed paper.
“A ban may result in a large amount of those mixed paper scraps ending up out of the circular economy stream,” BIR said.
“We intend to demonstrate, by engaging with stakeholders and the Chinese Government first, the devastating impact that such a ban would have on the global recycling industry, and beyond the Chinese and global economy, as well as the environment.”
But Roger Baynham, chair of the British Plastics Federation Recycling Group (BPFRG), was more positive.
“The exact implications of the new measures are not entirely clear, although the BPFRG’s 2012 Proposal to Amend the PRN/PERN System for Plastics foresaw this scenario.
”The BPFRG believes this announcement reinforces the importance of having long-term sustainable markets for recycled plastic within the UK, providing traction for further investment in our recycling infrastructure so that the UK is not so reliant upon export markets for waste.
“It is very much hoped that China’s announcement will lead to an increase in the quality of plastic material available for recycling within the UK,” Baynham added.
BIR director general Arnaud Brunet wrote to the WTO via the European Commission to request an extension of the deadline for comments to give stakeholders an opportunity to put forward their concerns.
“The BIR has been made aware that China has notified on 18 July 2017, the WTO of its intent to ban the import of certain scrap materials by year end (Notification G/TBT/N/CHN/1211).
”BIR, representing the interests of the recycling Industry at a global level, is respectfully presenting its comments about this notification to the WTO and the Government of the People’s Republic of China.
”As a preliminary comment, BIR would like to stress that the 48-hour deadline for commenting on the notification is extremely short, as compared to the usual 60-day period.
“As a result, the BIR calls for an extension of the delay to meet the standard 60-day period, so that all stakeholders may contribute.”