China officially confirms solid waste import ban date

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China customs officials Hangzhou
Chinese customs officials inspect rejected loads of waste paper

The Chinese Government has finally confirmed 1 January 2021 as the date it will introduce a solid waste import ban.

In Announcement No.53 issued jointly by the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, Ministry of Commerce, National Development and Reform Commission and General Administration of Customs, China confirmed the date that had mostly been expected by the recycling market.

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The announcement confirmed that the Ministry of Ecology and Environment has stopped accepting and approving applications for import permits for imported solid wastes that can be used as raw materials.

Those import permits that have been issued in 2020 must be used before 31 December 2020 and then expire after that date.

Various laws and regulations that governed the import of solid waste will be repealed from 1 January 2021.

In a statement, an official from the Ministry of Ecology and Environment said: “This demonstrates the firm determination of the Chinese government to safeguard the national ecological environment and the health of the people.”

Any companies that ship to China will be forced to return the solid waste material to China. Both the carrier and importer will be jointly liable for the return and disposal of the solid waste and will be fined.

The full announcement can be viewed here (in Chinese).

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

Paul’s view

China has now confirmed that it will ban imports of solid waste from 1 January 2021.

Previously, it had only announced in a press conference that it intended to introduce a solid waste import ban by this date, but everybody in the industry knew it was coming.

To that extent, shipments to China have now stopped with many shipping lines announcing an end to sending material there many months ago.

But is this the end of sending recyclable material to China? Possibly, but possibly not.

The country now permits import of certain industrial metals that were previously banned, and BIR believes China will soon allow import of some mechanically recycled plastics.

There have also been hints that China will reclassify materials so they can be imported.

For now, the China era of being a major destination for recyclable materials has pretty much come to an end. At some point, it may allow a reclassification of some materials, but it will never be the same as it once was. Plus, it is likely imports will be based on an end-of-waste criteria.

The lesson we now need to learn is that other countries might follow the path set by China. That means we have to produce the highest quality material possible, or face losing other Asian markets too eventually.

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