Though China has filed two statements with the World Trade Organization (WTO) regarding intended bans and contamination restrictions, their agenda remains murky, leaving many recycling industry insiders to question the country’s preparedness to implement such sweeping import policies.
While, at first blush, China’s waste import restrictions seem to be inspired by noble causes (Jinping’s government has cited environmental and human health concerns), the lack of details leave many to question China’s motives – is the move really an economic and political play instead?
Recycling industry organizations in the US have implored China to, at the very least, delay the implementation of import bans and stricter contamination thresholds to allow businesses and municipalities the chance to find suitable alternative markets to replace the multi-billion-dollar recycling trade with China and to avoid landfilling otherwise valuable materials.
Here’s what some of the prominent recycling associations across the US have said about China’s draconian import policies after the latest WTO filing:
President and CEO of the National Waste and Recycling Association (NWRA), Darrell Smith, called on the Chinese government to reevaluate the current, unattainable restrictions and to “enforce strict, reasonable standards on high quality materials” instead – “reasonable” meaning policies that fully consider the challenges faced by the global recycling industry currently and in light of material restrictions.
The Institute of Scrap Recycling (ISRI) issued their own statement that included a copy of the institute’s scrap specifications – specs that serve as the unofficial guidelines for the vast majority of businesses across the global recycling economy. Robin Weiner, ISRI’s president, used the specs to emphasize the confused state of China’s ill-defined, dithering import standards, asking that China provides a precise list of prohibited and allowed waste imports based on standardized, generally-accepted material definitions.
Weiner has also explained ISRI believes the Chinese agencies tasked with enforcement are simply not prepared to move forward with the most current import bans, a belief based on talks with both global industry insiders and Chinese officials in Beijing.
The National Recycling Coalition (NRC) also pointed to the ISRI standards in comments submitted to the WTO after China’s November 15th filing. Executive Director Marjorie Griek and President Bob Gedert coauthored the statement, writing that the Chinese thresholds are far stricter than the widely-accepted industry guidelines. They requested that China observe the ISRI standards or allow the US recycling industry ample time to adjust to the proposed limits.
The Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) has emphasized the threat to municipal recycling programs in the Pacific Northwest should China implement import restrictions as is. Municipalities with single-stream collections will likely suffer the most, as low-grade materials will have nowhere to go, forcing cities to slash the list of accepted recyclables and landfill other materials the US recycling infrastructure simply does not have the capacity to process.
China is unlikely to heed the pleas of the global recycling industry. Though the government has modified contamination thresholds slightly, businesses and municipalities can expect the import restrictions to be in line with China’s July and November WTO filings.
If you generate, handle, or process waste and would like to strengthen your position in this uncertain market, please contact our industry veterans at Berg Mill Supply. As we have done in the past, Berg Mill continues to work hard on creating solutions to overcome fluctuating commodity markets, including opening markets in other countries, forging strategic alliances, and improving domestic processing capabilities.