China hints at future reclassification of more recycled materials

Chinese mixed paper Japan
Chinese customs officials inspect illegal mixed paper from Japan

A Chinese official has hinted that there might be future reclassification of more recycled materials other than metals.

Recently, China announced new quality standards for import of recycled copper, brass and aluminium. If these standards are met, China no longer considers them as ‘solid waste’ and allows them to be imported freely.


In a press conference held by China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment, spokesperson Liu Youbin announced that China was also developing new quality standards for steel and “other products”.

He said: “Since July 2017, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, in conjunction with relevant departments, has resolutely implemented the decisions and deployments of the Party Central Committee and the State Council, unswervingly grasped the ban on the import of foreign garbage – a landmark measure of ecological civilisation construction – and ensured it will basically be zero solid waste imports by the end of 2020.

“At the same time, the state has been organising the formulation of quality standards for recycled resource products. In addition to the introduction of quality standards for recycled brass, recycled copper and recycled cast aluminium raw materials, it is studying and formulating quality standards for recycled steel raw materials and other product quality standards, and will continue to improve with these standards.”

BIR recently said that it believed that China is developing new quality standards to allow for the import of some mechanically recycled plastics, while rumours in the US have suggested China is looking to allow a reclassification to permit import of news & pam paper.

China also recently announced some upcoming standards that could potentially allow for this to happen, but no detail has been published on these standards as yet.

Paul’s view

Paul Sanderson, REB Market Intelligence
Paul Sanderson, REB Market Intelligence

Something is happening in China. The problem is working out what.

In this press conference, Liu Youbin confirmed the ban on imports of foreign solid waste by the end of this year, but also suggested that some reclassification of material for import continues to be considered.

It is a bit like putting together a jigsaw puzzle at the moment, except you only have some of the pieces on the table and the rest are in the box and you can’t get into the box.

Gradually, China is releasing little bits of information including the titles of the new product standards it is working on. Will these new product standards allow for import of some recycled plastics and paper again? I don’t know and we won’t know until China reveals more.

What we do know is that something is going on, perhaps as a result of the Chinese Government now recognising its manufacturing sector is struggling to get raw materials and facing higher costs to purchase it from domestic sources.

How this transpires is just guesswork at the moment, and I wouldn’t expect that China will suddenly re-open in January following the solid waste ban.

But with the new GB standards announced recently due for implementation from May 2021, we might get a sense of whether a reclassification of paper and plastics is on the way sometime early in 2021.

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