China set to reclassify mechanically recycled plastics, according to BIR

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

The Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) has said that the Standardisation Administration of China (SAC) is drafting new GB standards for mechanically recycled plastics.

It noted that SAC is preparing standards that might allow the import of plastics including PE, PP, mixed polyolefins, ABS, PC, PA, PET, PBT, PVC and PMMA.

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However, there is nothing on the SAC website about this, and the BIR source for this is unclear.

Recently, China has published GB standards for aluminium, brass and copper recycled material and BIR believes that the country is looking to develop similar standards for plastics.

In a statement, it added: “These Chinese Standards set very high quality standards for secondary raw materials. They have the same ultimate purpose of distinguishing between unprocessed ‘waste and scrap’ and ‘mechanically recycled’ secondary raw materials as the European Regulations for: Iron and Steel, Aluminium and Aluminium Alloys (Council Regulation (EU) N°333/2011), Copper (Commission Regulation (EU) N° 715/2013 ) and Glass Cullet (Commission Regulation (EU) No 1179/2012.)

“For these regulations and standards to be legitimised, it is important that the framework legislation in the United Nations Basel Convention, inter alia, explicitly recognises that recycling of organics, of metals and of other inorganic materials is through ‘mechanical recycling’, as well as other technologies and techniques.”

China banned the import of waste plastics in 2018.

Paul’s view

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

This move by China suggests that we might be heading towards an ‘end-of-waste’ scenario whereby if you want to export material there you must have recycled if first.

From a Chinese point of view, this makes perfect sense as it allows them to continue to import raw materials for their manufacturing industry, but without the need to risk importing contamination they didn’t want.

It would seem likely that this would be a trend other countries would be happy to follow and would necessitate more infrastructure in places like the UK to recycle it for domestic or export use.

Interestingly, there are also rumours that China is set to reclassify the news & pam grade and allow that for import, but what will happen with OCC is unclear.

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