China’s government eyes complete scrap import ban

Scrap recyclers 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 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 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 includes the reference to “ban importing solid waste for good by the end of 2020 to prevent further land pollution.”

Since early 2017, 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.

These moves mark a stark policy change in a nation that for much of this century has led the world in importing recyclables. According to the Washington-based Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), China imported 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.

Those figures are expected to be dramatically smaller in 2018, and a complete ban by 2021 would monumentally shift global secondary commodities markets.