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ISRI challenges Chinese understanding of import clampdown

2000 china containers

The US-based Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) has claimed that China has little understanding of the consequences of its ”chaotic” crackdown on imported secondary materials.

Following a meeting with US and Chinese government officials in Beijing, ISRI president Robin Wiener reported to her members that a Chinese philosophy of “if you need something corrected, you go overboard and later correct it” was “in play”.

She said another concern was a possible wave of ”copycat” rules imposed by other Asian countries.

China’s actions were coming from the highest level of government, ISRI said, with the environment agency MEP and the quality control agency AQSIQ being told to implement proposed contamination limits and a ban on some materials as quickly as possible, and ”without the time and resources needed to get it right”.

An ISRI briefing said: ”The Chinese are struggling to distinguish between what is waste, which they do not want in their country at any cost, and valuable resources such as scrap, that they understand is needed as feedstock for Chinese manufacturing.

“In their rush to meet President Xi Jinping’s directive to develop rules to prevent ’foreign waste’ from entering their country, they have created terms and standards inconsistent with the global trade.”

It reported little understanding within the Chinese government of the ”chaos” created: ”In meeting with AQSIQ in particular, it is clear that they are not prepared for the implementation of the ban for mixed paper and residential plastics scheduled to start on 1 January because they could not answer questions as to the meaning of the terms. Thus, the likelihood of individual inspectors at the ports understanding what they are inspecting – and what they are looking for – is very low.”

But limited recent changes showed that China was listening, ISRI said, and a working group of embassy officials from the US, Canada, UK, EU, Australia, New Zealand and Japan was co-ordinating strategy and speaking to the Chinese government on behalf of industry.

”We briefed this group last week and were very pleased with the concerns expressed by each and their joint commitment to provide support,” it said.

The UK Government has previously refused to go to Beijing to lobby for UK exporters, saying it was being represented by the EU. MRW has revealed how emails released under a freedom of information request show that Defra officials were told about the impact of China’s import ban on the UK waste industry seven weeks before environment secretary Michael Gove admitted he had “not given sufficient thought” to the matter.

ISRI is concerned that other importing countries may follow China’s lead: “It is in all of our best interests to … demonstrate our industry’s commitment to responsible recycling, and to differentiate ourselves from those market players that continue to be the lowest common denominator in terms of the supply of scrap to the global market.”

Recycling Association chief executive Simon Ellin said: “The discussions ISRI has had with the Chinese government highlight a lot of concerns we have had that the ban and greater restrictions on imports is being implemented too quickly.

“Clearly, as much as we in the UK, US and elsewhere do not have enough time to adapt, this is also the case with the Chinese agencies at the other end. This suggests there could be chaos until everyone is able to adapt or, ideally, a much longer time period is given for us to prepare.

“With the World Trade Organization consultation ending on 15 December, [we will] continue to lobby for a relaxation of standards or, alternativel,y a delay in implementation, until all stakeholders are prepared.”

Meanwhile, Vanden Recycling has calculated that 350,000 tonnes of plastic that would have previously been recycled will not be processed in 2018 as a result of Chinese restrictions. Using HMRC export data and the National Packaging Waste Database, Vanden predicts that 472,500 tonnes of recycling capacity to be lost in 2018 as a result of the ban.

Managing director David Wilson said: “There are some in the market who think that it won’t be a problem to find alternative markets to China as a result of its ban on most plastic imports. New processing capacity will eventually emerge but it’s a question of when and where – and will those markets think that UK material which has been recycled in the past is in fact worth processing in the same volumes?

”But we will also have to factor in that China used to import seven million tonnes of scrap plastics from global destinations, so competition will be even more fierce from net exporters in places such as Europe, US and Australia. We therefore have to focus on ensuring that UK material is the best quality possible and offers the best possible value to give us the opportunity to sell more to these alternative destinations.”

ISRI’s advice for shipping to China

Keep waste outDo not load dirt, wood, concrete, rocks or anything else that does not belong in the container because these will likely result in a rejection. This includes not scooping material from the bottom up – use other means wherever possible to load containers. Also, make sure that cardboard or aluminium cans, even though they are recyclable, are not in loads that are not cardboard or aluminium cans. Don’t give the inspectors an easy way to reject your load. Be extra vigilant when loading!

Include more photos. Take more photos than what is required and make sure they capture clean floors, properly sorted material, clean handling and loading, and quality/cleanliness of the material. Document the condition and contents of all shipments before export.

Be prepared for rejectionsWe anticipate a greater number of rejections of material before and after shipping, and it will not necessarily be related to scrap quality but unfortunately on misunderstandings by inspection officials as to what they are looking for.

ISRI has also asked its members to keep records of their experience, including the reasons given for any rejections and to share them.

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