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China to ban plastics and unsorted paper imports

2000 china shanghai port shipping

China has announced a ban on a range of imported secondary materials from the end of the year, prompting concern at the “devastating impact such a ban will have on the global recycling industry”.

China has notified the World Trade Organization (WTO) of its intention to ban the import of certain scrap materials.

“We found that large amounts of dirty wastes or even hazardous wastes are mixed in the solid waste that can be used as raw materials. This polluted China’s environment seriously,” China was quoted in Reuters as saying in its submission to 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 website for the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) said the list included mixed papers, textile materials and most scrap plastics (“including polymers of ethylene, styrene, vinyl chloride and PET”).

But while the Chinese list actually refers to the ‘unsorted papers’ grade, it also embraces all plastic grades.

For those that have put all their eggs in the basket that is China, they are going to have to revisit their business models or face the consequences

Vanden Recycling managing director David Wilson

ISRI president Robin Wiener issued a statement concerned that this could be the start of an even tighter regime.

“ISRI has already notified the Office of the United States Trade Representative and the US Department of Commerce on the devastating impact such a ban will have on the global recycling industry, especially because ISRI has heard that China is considering additional notifications in the future on other scrap materials,” she said. “The scrap recycling industry is the first link in the global manufacturing supply chain.”

Vanden Recycling, which has end markets in the UK, Europe and Asia, said there had been warnings a ban on plastics scrap was on the agenda.

Managing director David Wilson said: “In the UK, we have been too slow to respond and this is going to cause chaos in meeting plastic recycling targets and will likely lead to even higher PRN/PERN prices for plastics as a key market is cut off.

“There had been rumours that China would allow the highest quality regrind to be imported, but this is not the case. Only first remelt quality material will now be allowed into the country.

“For those that have put all their eggs in the basket that is China, they are going to have to revisit their business models or face the consequences. Our business model already allows us to be flexible and adaptable to the new reality.

If we do not ensure our exports of paper are of the very highest quality, then we are at risk closing our most important market

Mark Lyndon Paper Enterprises managing director Colin Clarke

Such a ban would represent an escalation of China’s current Operation National Sword crackdown on illegal imports of a range of goods which is being used to drive up the quality of imported scrap.

Mark Lyndon Paper Enterprises managing director Colin Clarke said: “For the time being, we are still able to export OCC, mixed paper and other grades to China as it is only unsorted waste paper imports that have been banned. Normal caveats apply when dealing with the Chinese authorities that if bad shipments are received, then mixed papers in particular could be at threat of a ban.

“We should also be clear that China is very serious about protecting its environment and the public health of its citizens. If we do not ensure our exports of paper are of the very highest quality, then we are at risk closing our most important market for recovered paper.”

Jakob Rindegren, recycling policy advisor for the Environmental Services Association, said: “It is still unclear whether the ban would be unconditional or allow reconfigured grades or materials meeting stricter quality limits.

”ESA is following these developments closely and our members are committed to limit any disruptions that could occur. However, it is too early to comment on the implications of a ban, if imposed, not least before all details are known. “

Reuters said that in 2016 China imported 7.3 million tonnes of waste plastics, valued at $3.7bn (£2.8bn), accounting for 56% of world imports. 

  • Note: this article and headline have been updated as the types of materials affected (below) were clarified.

The list in full with commodity codes

Products covered (HS or CCCN where applicable, otherwise national tariff heading. ICS numbers may be provided in addition, where applicable): HS: Plastic waste from living sources: 3915100000; 3915200000; 3915300000; 3915901000; 3915909000; Vanadium slag: 2619000021; 2619000029; 2620999011; 2620999019; Unsorted waste paper: 4707900090; Waste textile materials: 5103109090; 5103209090; 5103300090; 5104009090; 5202100000; 5202910000; 5202990000; 5505100000; 5505200000; 6310100010; 6310900010.

  • Slag, dross (other than granulated slag), scalings and other waste from the manufacture of iron or steel. (HS 2619)
  • Ash and residues (other than from the manufacture of iron or steel), containing arsenic, metals or their compounds. (HS 2620)
  • Waste, parings and scrap, of plastics. (HS 3915)
  • Waste of wool or of fine or coarse animal hair, including yarn waste but excluding garnetted stock. (HS 5103)
  • Garnetted stock of wool or of fine or coarse animal hair. (HS 5104)
  • Cotton waste (including yarn waste and garnetted stock). (HS 5202)
  • Waste (including noils, yarn waste and garnetted stock) of man-made fibres. (HS 5505)
  • Used or new rags, scrap twine, cordage, rope and cables and worn out articles of twine, cordage, rope or cables, of textile materials. (HS 6310)
  • Other, including unsorted waste and scrap (HS 470790). 

Readers' comments (2)

  • Oh, the Recycling Industry is always the first to moan! Tough!

    It is not necessary to export these wastes.

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  • Great. Thanks Stella Witt for sharing. China can, and has obviously has decided to, decide to protect themselves from becoming the primary recycling option for the rest of the world. That being the case, now the world wide recycling industry will have a surplus. We need to get away from recycling being a solution of first resort, for and have REFUSING become the de facto choice. Bottles and bags are so minor in the scale of things, and I am all for them, but they have more long-term value as a vehicle to increase awareness, which is key. Now how about exports?
    Stephen Fawcett

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