China abandons 2020 deadline to ban solid waste imports

Hangzhou Customs waste paper
Hangzhou Customs officials inspect rejected waste paper

Plans to ban solid waste imports by the end of 2020 appear to have been abandoned by the Chinese Government.

In June last year, the Chinese Central Committee of the Communist Party proposed that solid waste imports should be banned by the end of 2020.


It has also been widely assumed, especially by recovered paper exporters to China, that a ban would be put in place by the end of 2020.

However, the Chinese Government appears to have abandoned this deadline, but replaced it with an aspiration to eventually end solid waste imports.

In the revised draft of the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Solid Waste Pollution Prevention, Article 25 says: “The State will gradually realise zero import of solid waste” and that the Ministry of Ecology and Environmental Protection and the governing State Council will “organise and implement” that goal.

Article 92 of the draft law says that if the Customs department finds illegal waste imports, it shall order the return of the material. The carrier will be responsible for returning it, but the burden will be on the importer.

Fines of up to 5 million yuan (£582,600 at current exchange rates) would be imposed on the importer for bringing illegal solid waste into China.

The law does not mention the current ban on all plastics, and mixed paper, but it would be assumed that this will continue. The permitted GB standards on paper and metals are also not mentioned, but it appears that these materials will continue to be allowed for import. However, with the proviso that imports will gradually be reduced.

China has recently been reducing quotas for imports of recovered paper, and there is no indication in the draft law whether this will continue to be the mechanism under which it will reduce imports.

It appears unlikely that China will suddenly increase quotas once this draft becomes law, but there will be continued uncertainty for exporters without a clear deadline of when the country will ban imports.

Much of the new law outlines how China will introduce mandatory domestic sorting of waste, and the solid waste import ban would be most likely to occur as a result of China’s domestic market providing enough material for its mills – if it ever does.

That could mean that imports will still be allowed beyond 2020, although most likely at lower levels.

The draft law has now been approved by both the State Council and National People’s Congress. The latter is now seeking public comments on the revised law until 3 August 2019.

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