China has launched a crackdown on the import of substandard recyclable materials.
UK industry figures said prices had been hit as container loads were rejected.
The policy, known as ‘Operation Green Fence’ does not involve a change in regulations, but will see existing ones enforced more rigorously for materials of all kinds.
This could lead to shipments of materials that the Chinese authorities deem unacceptable being refused entry and sent back from Hong Kong and other ports.
The Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) said it had been told by the Chinese that Operation Green Fence “was set up merely to ensure the correct enforcement of existing legislation on waste imports by the customs authority’s at all major ports of entry in China. There is no new legislation.”
BIR expects to meet Chinese officials at a convention in Florida to discuss the issue later this week.
Plastics quality step-change
Eco Plastics managing director Jonathan Short said: “Hong Kong has been closed for a while for low grade plastic bottles, which is part of the larger green fence operation.
“China still needs the material but will now be looking for a ‘product’ rather than a waste product, and so in theory will only accept plastics that have been at least washed and/or flaked to a standard that they would find acceptable.”
He said this had been the case for some years – citing softening of the overall UK export markets for plastics to China as early as mid-2011 – “but there has been a recent step-change in the Government’s enforcement of these regulations”.
Short said China faced both international and domestic pressure to improve its environment, and so, “I don’t think that Green Fence is a short term policy – this is the start of things to come”.
He said Chinese manufacturers might use neighbouring countries to pre-process materials, and had heard rumours of shipments to Vietnamese ports to sort and clean the material to a standard acceptable to the Chinese authorities.
“But EU countries are only allowed to export single sourced polymers, not mixed loads, to Vietnam,” he added.
Short said he expected mixed bottle prices to decline across the board by around 25% in April, largely because of the situation with Hong Kong and China, and to continue to fall thereafter.
Closed Loop Recycling marketing manager Nick Cliffe said: “We are not exporters but we hear anecdotally that lots of people are talking about loads being rejected there, and the UK price for mixed bottles has softened incredibly as that export route is closed off”.