Scrap recyclers around the world are scrambling to figure out what China’s State Council means when it says it seeks to “ban importing solid waste” permanently by the end of 2020.
The nation’s media began reporting Monday, June 25, that a State Council policy or directive released the previous day, intended as a roadmap to combat pollution, included the notion of a complete ban on imported scrap materials.
The directive, as reported by the Beijing-based China Daily, is designed to hold local and provincial governments accountable to Beijing in their efforts “to improve the overall environmental quality and ensure a significant decrease in pollutant emissions by 2020.”
Many of the directive’s aspects pertain to air and water quality measurement and reporting, but the China Daily article also includes the reference to “ban importing solid waste for good by the end of 2020 to prevent further land pollution.”
In the past 18 months, the Chinese government has introduced a series of restrictions either on certain types of scrap materials or by imposing contaminant levels that make passing inspections increasingly difficult.
The series of moves marks a stark policy change in a nation that for much of this century has led the world in its purchase of imported scrap materials. According to statistics gathered by the Washington-based Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), China led the world in 2016 by importing some 28.5 million metric tons of scrap paper and more than 3.3 million metric tons of copper-bearing scrap. That same year, China imported some 775,000 metric tons of plastic scrap from the U.S. alone.
All those figures are expected to be dramatically reduced in 2018, and the enactment of a complete ban by the start of 2021 would mark a monumental shift in global secondary commodities markets.
An executive with a China-based secondary metals production firm contacted by Recycling Today indicated his firm is already preparing to operate its plant in China as a domestic “closed-loop” operation by 2020 that will melt only domestically-generated scrap. Any melting capacity that will tap into the global scrap market, the executive indicated, will have to be located outside China’s borders.