Is China going to allow imports of recycled material to continue?

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Hangzhou Customs waste paper
Hangzhou Customs officials inspect rejected waste paper

China could be set to allow “high-quality” imports of recycled material to continue, despite the market expecting a ban by the end of 2020.

At a press conference, reported on the State Council website, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment director of the department of solid waste and chemicals Qiu Qiwen revealed that the Implementation Plan for the Reform of the Import Mangement System for the Prohibition of Foreign Waste Imports into Solid Wastes had been “successfully completed”.

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This is because it had adjusted the catalogue of solid waste that was allowed for import, including the banning of mixed paper and all plastics.

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It had also imposed a strict inspection regime on material imports and introduced increased import quality thresholds.

As a result, imports of recycled materials had fallen by 9.2% in 2017 and 46.5% in 2018.

But in an intriguing statement, he said: “If it is a raw material obtained by the harmless processing of solid waste, meets the mandatory national product standards, and does not endanger public health and ecological safety, it is not a solid waste and can be traded as a general cargo.”

This seems to suggest that as long as materials such as cardboard meet minimum import standards, they will continue to be allowed to be imported as a commodity rather than a waste.

However, he also warned that China will not relax the strict policies it has in place. He said: “We will never relax the requirements, and will not go back.”

China still plans to reduce imports of solid waste by the end of 2020, but by suggesting it will reclassify materials that meet its import requirements as general cargo, then this might give some optimism to paper recyclers in particular.

As with anything with China, this will only become clearer once it is operationally put in place, or the expected draft law on solid waste pollution is finally published.

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