China set to issue new GB standard on solid waste, plus new plastic recycling standard

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China recycling inspections ports that solid waste
Chinese customs officials inspect waste materials

China’s State Administration for Market Regulation has announced a completely new GB standard that will be called General Solid Waste Classification and Code.

It has also announced a new GB standard called Technical Specification for Waste Plastic Recycling and another named Characterisation characteristics and testing methods of polyethylene (PE) recycled materials.

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The General Solid Waste Classification and Code will have the standard number GB/T 39171-2020 while the Technical Specification for Waste Plastic Recycling will have the standard number GB/T 39171-2020. The PE testing standard will have the number GB/T 39199-2020.

There will also be a new Principles and requirements for data collection of general solid waste material flow with the number GB/T 39197-2020.

All are expected to be implemented on 1 May 2021.

However, no drafts of these standards have been published as yet.

Interestingly, on the status page for the general solid waste standard, it lists standard SN/T 2293.5-2009 Classification and identification of imported solid waste that can be used as raw materials. Part 5: Waste Paper as a similar standard to the new one among other standards on solid waste classification. It doesn’t list the current GB 16487.4-2017 Environmental protection control standard for imported solid wastes as raw materials – Waste and scrap of paper or paperboard though.

It could be that this standard becomes a way to reclassify some materials as ‘end-of-waste’ especially as there are rumours in the industry that some paper grades may be eventually permitted at a very high specification.

However, it is equally possible that this could relate only to domestic Chinese sources.

China has tended to talk about illegal imports as ‘foreign garbage’ and legal imports as ‘solid waste’ but has never really provided a clear definition of what it means by solid waste and this new standard gives it an opportunity to do so.

On plastics, BIR recently said that it had discovered that China was planning to allow some imports of mechanically recycled materials and this new Technical Specification for Waste Plastic Recycling or the testing methods for PE could be the mechanisms to allow this. However, until a draft is published, that cannot be confirmed.

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