Views: 20961|Replies: 25

China bans foreign waste – but what will happen to the world’s recycling? [Copy link] 中文

Rank: 4

Post time 2017-12-9 11:36:50 |Display all floors

China has announced it will ban imports of 24 categories of recyclables and solid waste by the end of the year EPA


The dominant position that China holds in global manufacturing means that for many years China has also been the largest global importer of many types of recyclable materials. Last year, Chinese manufacturers imported 7.3 million metric tonnes of waste plastics from developed countries including the UK, the EU, the US and Japan.

However, in July China announced big changes in the quality control placed on imported materials, notifying the World Trade Organisation that it will ban imports of 24 categories of recyclables and solid waste by the end of the year. This campaign against yang laji,  or “foreign garbage”, applies to plastic, textiles and mixed paper. It will result in China taking a lot less material as it replaces imported materials with recycled material collected in its own domestic market, from its growing middle-class and Western-influenced consumers.

The impact of this will be far-reaching. China is the dominant market for recycled plastic. There are concerns that much of the waste that the country currently imports, especially the lower grade materials, will have nowhere else to go.


This applies equally to other countries including the EU27, where 87 per cent of the recycled plastic collected was exported directly, or indirectly (via Hong Kong), to China. Japan and the US also rely on China to buy their recycled plastic. Last year, the US exported 1.42 million tons of scrap plastics, worth an estimated $495m (£373m) to China.

Plastic problems

So what will happen to the plastic these countries collect through household recycling systems once the Chinese refuse to accept it? What are the alternatives?


Plastics collected for recycling could go to energy recovery (incineration). They are, after all, a fossil-fuel based material and burn extremely well – so on a positive note, they could generate electricity and improve energy self-sufficiency.

They could also go to landfill. This is not ideal – imagine the press headlines. Alternatively, materials could be stored until new markets are found. This also brings problems, however – there have been hundreds of fires at sites where recyclable materials are stored.


Time to change our relationship with plastic?

While it is a reliable material, taking many forms from cling film (surround-wrap) to flexible packaging to rigid materials used in electronic items, the problems caused by plastic, most notably litter and ocean plastics, are receiving increasing attention.

One way forward might be to limit its functions. Many disposable items are made from plastic. Some of them are disposable by necessity for hygiene purposes – for instance, blood bags and other medical items – but many others are disposable for convenience.



With a population of more than 1.4 billion, China’s domestic waste management is a challenge in itself (EPA)


Looking at the consumer side, there are ways of cutting back on plastic. Limiting the use of plastic bags through financial disincentives is one initiative that has shown results and brought about changes in consumer behaviour. In France, some disposable plastic items are banned and in the Britain, leading pub chain JD Wetherspoon has banned disposable, one-use plastic drinking straws.

Deposit and return schemes for plastic bottles (and drink cans) could also incentivise behaviour. Micro-beads, widely used in cosmetics as exfoliants, are now a target as the damage they do becomes increasingly apparent and the UK Government has announced plans to ban their use in some products.


This follows similar actions announced by the US and Canada, with several EU nations, South Korea and New Zealand also planning to implement bans.

Many local authorities collect recycling that is jumbled together. But a major side effect of this type of collection is that while it is convenient for the householder, there are high contamination levels which leads to reduced material quality. This will mean it is either sold for lower prices into a limited market, will need to be reprocessed through sorting plants, or will be incinerated or put in landfill. But changes to recycling collections and reprocessing to improve the quality of materials could be expensive.

Alternatively, recycled plastic could be used to provide chemicals to the petrochemical sector, fuels to the transport and aviation sectors, food packaging and many other applications.

The problems we are now facing are caused by China’s global dominance in manufacturing and the way many countries have relied on one market to solve their waste and recycling problems. The current situation offers us an opportunity to find new solutions to our waste problem, increase the proportion of recycled plastic in our own manufactured products, improve the quality of recovered materials and to use recycled material in new ways.


Christine Cole is a research fellow, architecture, design and the built environment at Nottingham Trent University. This article first appeared on The Conversation (theconversation.com)




Use magic tools Report

2018 Most Popular Member 2018 Most Popular Member 2016 Most Popular Member Medal Gold Medal

Post time 2017-12-9 13:17:00 |Display all floors
Reminder: Author is prohibited or removed, and content is automatically blocked

Use magic tools Report

Rank: 6Rank: 6

Post time 2017-12-9 21:30:14 |Display all floors
Disregarding the environmental concerns, different consumer attitude toward plastic could be explained by observation that in China, plastic wrapping on a product is seen as indicator of quality. Individually wrapped fruits or vegetables for example.

Somewhere else, it is seen as additional and unnecessary cost to acquire that item.

This could be extended to speculate that in China there has been lack of quality in products, and plastic wrapping is a way to make it appear improving.

Someplace else, perhaps the quality is "maxed out", and increasing value of products is instead searched from reducing unnecessary costs.

Use magic tools Report

Rank: 6Rank: 6

Post time 2017-12-10 06:17:16 |Display all floors
This post was edited by sfphoto at 2017-12-10 06:18

You either don't understand what the article is saying or you're just being facetious in your post. China has a HUGE recycling industry for plastics, paper, etc. that turns those "waste" into recycled materials for use in packaging products. As domestic consumption has increased dramatically, domestic waste recycling is already sufficient to meet the material needs of manufacturing industries. Thus, the decision to ban imported "waste" for recycling plastics, paper, etc. Much of the "waste" is being generated from packaging. So China will need a good system for collecting leftover packaging materials from ecommerce shipments. Those plastic or paper packages can then be recycled for further use.

Use magic tools Report

2018 Most Popular Member 2018 Most Popular Member 2016 Most Popular Member Medal Gold Medal

Post time 2017-12-10 07:19:48 |Display all floors
Reminder: Author is prohibited or removed, and content is automatically blocked

Use magic tools Report

Rank: 6Rank: 6

Post time 2017-12-10 14:27:54 |Display all floors
sfphoto Post time: 2017-12-10 06:17
You either don't understand what the article is saying or you're just being facetious in your post.  ...
China has a HUGE recycling industry for plastics, paper, etc. that turns those "waste" into recycled materials


Where I live (Kunming) there have been conflicts between garbage collectors and local industry, because newly built incinerators (that burn waste to produce electricity) have been running on undercapacity due to lack of fuel.

The garbage collectors (here anyway) are typically elder, poorer individuals who sort rubbish bins for stuff that they can exchange for money. They sell it to slightly bigger operators, who I assume transport it to some centralized recycling plants.

Outside our house, there are different rubbish bins so that we could sort waste and recyclables to different bins, but that's the extent of it. Marginal group of the residents cares to sort even that far, and in the end everything, from every bin, is loaded into single garbage truck and delivered for incinerating.

The conflict of interests is that on one hand you have those garbage collectors making simple living, and on the other hand you have businessmen having invested in those incinerators. The latter expect their investments returned to them in a decade or two, but that will not happen if recycling operates efficiently.

I think that this is one area, where the state should step in. It should increase taxation in industries that use lot of plastic or other harmful material (for example for packaging), and then use that tax revenue to compensate incinerator companies for every unit of waste that they redirect to recycling instead of burning. Government policies should direct recyclers and incinerators to merge or collaborate.

Customers will of course pay for that in the end, but it should motivate them to ask for less wasteful products from whatever industry they buy from.

For example, do you need individually plastic-wrapped pairs of chopsticks to be sent with every food delivery, or plastic wrapped rice bowls in restaurant. Do you need two bananas in plastic bag from a fruit shop, and could you put a can of coke in your pocket or handbag instead of taking a plastic bag from the store.

Use magic tools Report

Rank: 6Rank: 6

Post time 2017-12-10 16:26:36 |Display all floors
This post was edited by sfphoto at 2017-12-10 16:27
seneca Post time: 2017-12-10 07:19
Either you have never been to China, least of all Recently, or you deliberately put on blinkers to ...
Plastic overuse is a blatant problem in China along with the wasteful use of other resources such as water, power construction materials etc and so on. Plastic hardly is recycled in China - except the plastic bought from abroad.

Construction materials, waste water and excess power are already being recycled/reused in China. There is a Chinese 3D printing company using construction materials; Singapore-based company in a JV waste water recycling project in China; and there's a Chinese company called Broad that does co-generation power plants. Plastic bottles are being recycled but plastic bags are not because they are not recyclable. Only paper packaging is recyclable.

I think the problem is bottled drinks. China should just ban them.

Use magic tools Report

You can't reply post until you log in Log in | register

BACK TO THE TOP
Contact us:Tel: (86)010-84883548, Email: blog@chinadaily.com.cn
Blog announcement:| We reserve the right, and you authorize us, to use content, including words, photos and videos, which you provide to our blog
platform, for non-profit purposes on China Daily media, comprising newspaper, website, iPad and other social media accounts.