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China sets out less stringent contamination levels

China has eased its proposed acceptable contamination limits for imported secondary materials in a submission to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

In a series of filings, China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) says it wants to adopt new standards on 31 December, applying them to shipments arriving on or after 1 March 2018.

The previously announced 0.3% limit is being eased to 0.5% for both ’waste and scrap’ of plastics and paper. Current out-throw is 1.5%, and the paper industry in particular had hoped that China would move to a 1% limit.

Because the submission to the WTO is for consultation, this has not been adopted within China and MEP has made no announcements domestically. Observers suggest this does not affect MEP’s original announcement in July of a ban on mixed paper and post-consumer plastics by the end of this year.

The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), representing US recyclers, has listed the new percentage limits as:

  • Smelt Slag 0.5
  • Wood 0.5
  • Paper 0.5
  • Ferrous 0.5
  • Non-ferrous 1.0
  • Electric motors 0.5
  • Wires and cables 0.5
  • Metal and appliances 0.5
  • Vessels 0.05
  • Plastic 0.5
  • Autos 0.3

ISRI has led opposition to a previous notification and has been working closely with the US Government, including the White House, US Department of Commerce and others. ISRI has engaged the Chinese Government through its embassy in Washington, and ISRI staff have travelled to China on several occasions to discuss the issue with officials and industry leaders.

By comparision, UK recyclers have been critical of the approach of UK Government representatives, urging ministers to “get on a plane to Beijing”.

Indeed, as late as 1 November, the environment secretary Michael Gove confessed to the Environmental Audit Committee in Westminster that he had “not given sufficient thought” to the effects on the UK of China’s proposed de facto ban on waste imports. 

Simon ellin in china

Simon ellin in china

That prompted Simon Ellin, chief executive of the Recycling Association (pictured) to call it shocking that China was ”completely off his radar” of the head of Defra: ”He doesn’t appreciate that we can recycle only 39% of all the paper that we collect in this country. We have no other capacity and we are so reliant on China. Defra is out of touch and underfunded.”

Defra waste minister Therese Coffey was also criticised when she appeared before the committee. 

In response to the latest announcement, Robin Wiener, president of ISRI, said China’s proposed ’carried waste’ thresholds were still not in line with standards followed globally by the recycling community and industrial consumers.

“Although ISRI is heartened that the new proposal moves away from the 0.3% threshold, the new levels are still of great concern. ISRI is reviewing the documents carefully and will submit comments through the WTO and directly to the Chinese Government [by a 15 December deadline].”

 

 

 

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