Exporters of recycled material to China are being hit by a new quality inspection crackdown by Chinese customs, SCM can reveal.


Exporters of material to China are being hit by a new quality inspection crackdown by Chinese customs, SCM can reveal.

With demand for material low in China, authorities there have taken the opportunity to raise the quality level of material entering the country across plastic, paper and metal grades.


SCM understands that containers are being rejected by Chinese customs officials and sending material back to countries of origin such as the UK. Hundreds of containers are believed to be in quarantine at the moment, with the expectation that many of them will be sent back.

If the situation continues, there will continue to be less demand from China and more supply in UK and European markets. With more supply and less demand, prices for materials are likely to face downward pressure.

Mark Lyndon Paper Enterprises UK managing director Paul Briggs confirmed that the crackdown had begun. He added: “There are very strong rumours that many UK suppliers of mainly MRF mixed papers have material either in quarantine or have already had it rejected by the Chinese authorities and it is on its way back to the UK.”

“The Chinese inspection authorities are clamping down on UK mixed papers as the level of contamination is at unacceptable levels. The majority of the mixed being quarantined is from MRFs, but not exclusively.

“We know from our own quality inspections in China that UK mixed from MRFs is contaminated with other recyclables. This is far more than any other country we buy from. We only try to buy from the best of the best MRFs, but our mills do try to avoid UK soft mixed. Chinese customs inspections are now limiting contamination to about 1 to 2 per cent max, although this is still officially to be confirmed. We have yet to see a UK MRF produced mixed with such a low contamination level.

“Chinese mills had already started to cut back on orders for UK MRF tonnes as European MRF mixed is by and large clean and dry for many months of the year and is cheaper. However, now that Chinese customs inspectors have intervened, the issue has been forced and the UK will be expected to match and maintain legal quality levels.”

Previously, while demand was high, Chinese customs were reported to be turning a blind eye to material that was below the Chinese quality thresholds on the basis that the country needed all material.

With demand now much lower from Chinese buyers, Chinese customs are taking the opportunity to enforce its regulations with the aim of permanently improving quality in the long term.

Paul Briggs added: “Previously, Chinese customs have been allowing this material to enter the country. Coupled with a lack of enforcement from the UK authorities, this has given the impression that the quality is acceptable.

“It appears that commingled collections are here to stay, so mixed producers need to positively pick either physically or mechanically. I know of suppliers who leave fines or put fines back into the mixed. This has to stop if suppliers want to continuously move their products.

“I am always amazed that companies spend a fortune on sorting systems then forget to add a roof for the stock expecting the buyer to pay for a healthy dose of UK water along with the product.

“For the UK domestic recycling schemes to survive the collectors and sorters need to have a good rethink on quality and produce what the market requires.”