China to strictly regulate solid waste imports
BEIJING, China — China communicated in July through the World Trade Organization that the country will ban the import of 24 varieties of solid waste. Many US recyclers have relied upon China’s scrap import system to allow their businesses to function. Scrap and waste is the sixth largest US export to China. Shipping companies that run between the US and China have allowed shipping containers, which held product on the trip from China to the US to head back to China filled with various types of US recycled materials, including plastics. The materials are sent back to China, at a discount, for recycling purposes. The US trade deficit with China has helped fuel this arrangement since US exports to China are imbalanced, meaning the shipping containers would otherwise remain empty when returning to China without the recycled materials.
China has asserted that the ban on scrap waste is necessary for environmental reasons and indicated that Chinese recyclers will only accept limited post-industrial waste that meets strict regulations. Washington-based Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) has stated that the new regulations amount to a complete ban because the new contaminant threshold requirement for a bale of scrap recycling is impossible to achieve with current recycling methods. According to the organization’s comments to the proposed standards from China, “ISRI is extremely concerned with the reduction of the control requirements for ‘carried’ waste to 0.3 percent for all commodities. The application of this standard will effectively result in a ban on the importation of all these commodities. It is simply not possible to achieve such a control level, nor is it possible to even measure it with such accuracy.”
Chinese authorities in Beijing have stated that current scrap imports have contained large amounts of dirty and hazardous materials mixed in with the solid waste. The new rules are an effort at reform, though opponents argue the stricter limits will lead to more incinerated waste and waste in landfills.