Revised China solid waste law contains surprise clause that might allow for some import of recycled materials

China solid waste law
The 17th meeting of the 13th National People's Congress approved the revised China solid waste law

China has published the text of its updated solid waste law that appears to contain a new clause that might allow for continued imports of some materials.

As mentioned in a blog on this site last night, China’s National People’s Congress accepted the third draft of the law, which was then made law for implementation from 1 September 2020 by Presidential Decree No. 43.


China has now published the text of the Law on the Prevention and Control of Environmental Pollution by Solid Waste overnight and it contains a fascinating and new update.

As in the second draft of the law, China plans to gradually reduce imports of solid waste to zero, although the text has been amended slightly from the previous draft.

Article 24 says: “The state gradually realises zero imports of solid waste, which shall be implemented by the competent Department of Ecology and Environment of the State Council in conjunction with the competent Department of Commerce, Development and Reform and Customs of the State Council.”

Article 25 adds: “If the Customs finds that the imported goods are suspected of solid waste, it may entrust a professional institution to carry out attribute identification and manage it according to the law according to the identification conclusion.”

Through Article 24 and Article 25, this seems to suggest that China will gradually reduce imports of solid waste, as it has been since plastics and mixed paper were banned at the end of 2018.

However, Article 124, which contains new text added in this final version of the law, allows for some flexibility of the definition of solid waste.

It defines solid waste as referring to “solid, semi-solid and gaseous articles and substances generated in production, life and other activities that lose their original use value or are discarded or abandoned although they have not lost their use value”.

But the same clause also appears to allow some materials to be permitted still when it states “unless it is processed harmlessly and complies with compulsory national product standards, it will not endanger public health and ecological safety, or it is determined that it is not a solid waste according to the solid waste identification standards and identification procedures.”

The clause seems a little vague on exactly what this will mean in practice, as does the plan to gradually realise zero import of solid wastes, but it does give the potential for the Chinese Government to reclassify materials that it requires as raw materials.

It appears unlikely based on previous announcements that the Chinese Government will clarify this in the coming days, but with it already being signalled that it will ban imports by the end of this year, there should be a better idea over the coming months if this will allow for some cardboard and certain metals to be permitted for import.

Even if it does allow imports of these materials, it would seem likely that there will be very strict standards and tough inspection regimes.

Indeed, Article 115 is about the fines that will be imposed on anyone illegally importing solid waste.

It says: “Anyone who imports solid wastes outside of the People’s Republic of China into the territory in violation of the provisions of this law shall be ordered by the Customs to return the solid wastes and shall be fined not less than 500,000 yuan (£56,800) but not more than 5 million yuan (£568,000).

“The carrier shall bear joint and several liability with the importer for the return and disposal of the solid waste specified in the preceding paragraph.”

Article 117 adds: “For the solid waste that has entered the country illegally, the department in charge of ecology and environment of the people’s government, at or above the provincial level, shall submit disposal opinions to the Customs, and the Customs shall make a punishment decision in accordance with the provisions of Article 115 of this law. If environmental pollution has already been caused, the department in charge of ecological environment of the people’s government, at or above the provincial level, shall order the importer to eliminate the pollution.”

Apart from the approval of the revised Chinese solid waste law, the 13th National People’s Congress in the same 17th meeting that approved the law also voted for the removal of Environment Minister Li Ganjie from office and replacement by Huang Runqiu. This was confirmed by Presidential Decree No.44.

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