China to Ban Certain Scrap Plastic and Paper Imports

Connector Summer 2017

In a July 18 filing with the World Trade Organization (WTO), China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection has notified the World Trade Organization (WTO) of its intent to ban the import of certain scrap materials. Among the items included on the list are most scrap plastics (“including polymers of ethylene, styrene, vinyl chloride and PET…”), mixed paper and slags and drosses.

The WTO filing references recent Chinese government efforts to clamp down on the quality of recovered material imports into the country. Through those actions, “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,” the environmental ministry wrote.

“This polluted China’s environment seriously,” the filing continues. “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.”

An adoption date has not been specified, but the filing indicates the ban will take effect by the end of the year.

The WTO filing confirms rumors that have spread through the recycling industry since a Chinese reform committee in April advised the government to reduce the volume of recovered material imports. That single announcement led to fears the country would completely ban imports of some recyclables. China is the top downstream destination for recovered materials from the US and other countries.

The imports ban has been framed as a way for China to build up its domestic materials recovery infrastructure. But the WTO filing indicates at least part of the motivation is focused on quality control and pollution reduction.

At the same time, China’s National Sword enforcement campaign has aimed to crack down on smuggling operations and importers using illegal permits to ship scrap materials into the country.

The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) quickly condemned the ban, noting in a statement the action would have a “devastating impact” on recycling on a global scale and in the US.

“More than 155,000 direct jobs are supported by the US industry’s export activities, earning an average wage of almost $76,000 and contributing more than $3 billion to federal, state, and local taxes,” Robin Wiener, ISRI’s president, said. “A ban on imports of scrap commodities into China would be catastrophic to the recycling industry.”

Source: Resource Recycling, Plastics Recycling Update, and Recycling Product News

Editor’s Note: The RCA will be discussing the pending China market ban in a special workshop at the It Takes A Village conference Oct 11-13 in Lake Louise.