China relies on imports for more than half of its plastic scrap recycling industry. On August 1, China’s government began to enforce a new regulation on solid waste imports at its Guangzhou Customs. Kevin Huang reports for Plastics News that imports have since dropped by 80%, and the industry fears “a radical shakeup” will occur once all customs agencies in China must comply.
Beijing issued the new regulation earlier this year to combat environmental pollution. A lot of non-recyclable waste was coming in with the imports, a spokesperson from China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection told Huang at the 2011 China Replas, the industry’s annual conference.
Guangzhou Customs was chosen as the pilot site for implementation because it handles a large portion of the country’s plastic scrap recycling imports. Huang cites statistics from China’s General Administration of Customs to show how volume through Guangzhou Customs dropped in the third quarter. About 520,000 metric tons of scrap plastics came in during each of the first two quarters. Only 240,000 tons came through during the third quarter.
Huang provides more details about the new regulation:
According to officials who spoke at the Replas conference, the new regulation is showing major impact on plastics recycling because: a) it prohibits the borrowing, renting or selling of solid waste import licenses; b) it prohibits the reselling of imported waste materials, and the imported waste must be used as raw materials by the company that is listed on the imported license; c) an importer must conduct the clearance through its local customs, not any customs in the country.
Toland Lam, president of the China Plastics Processing Industry Association’s recycling committee and owner of recycler T&T Hi-Tech Development Co. Ltd. in Shenzhen, spoke to Huang about the recycling industry’s “unprecedented difficulties.” Lam noted that about one-third of the plastics recyclers in Guangdong province have shut down because of the new regulation, though the current global economy and increasing labor costs have played a role.
A “reshuffle” of the industry is on the horizon, commented Chen Zhuhan, vice president of the CPPIA recycling committee and owner of Zhongheng International Trade Co. Ltd., to Huang. Zhuhan recommended that recyclers need to “transform themselves, devise innovative business strategies, and invest in new technologies” to survive.
However, in an accompanying story, Huang reports that most Chinese recyclers are reluctant to invest in expensive technologies such as automated sorting machines when the future of the industry is unsure and tariffs on imported material are already high.
Huang reports that a few Chinese companies have invested in automation. As the video above shows, families in China sort much of the plastic scrap for recycling by hand.
Paul Yan, chairman of Jiangsu-based Taicang Sicheng Plastics Co. Ltd., told Plastics News that companies would have more money to invest in technologies if the government taxes on plastic scrap imports were reduced.
Source: “China’s new regulation shakes up plastic recycling industry,” Plastics News, 11/15/11
Source: “Chinese recyclers reluctant to invest on automation,” Plastics News, 11/15/11
Source: “China’s growing recycling industry,” YouTube
Rachel Petkewich is a freelance science writer and editor. She has worked as a research scientist in the chemical industry and spent eight years as a staff writer and editor at various science journals and magazines, including Chemical & Engineering News.