The National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA) announced its position on China’s proposed ban on recyclables.
The positions states:
On July 18, 2017, the Chinese government notified the World Trade Organization of their plans to ban 24 "solid waste" materials by the end of 2017. These materials include various types of plastic and unsorted paper. According to the Chinese, the ban is being enacted to protect its environment and reduce pollution resulting from managing these materials.
The National Waste and Recycling Association (NWRA) supports the efforts of the Chinese Government to improve environmental protection and standards within its recycling infrastructure. However, the decision to ban the import of recyclable materials would have a significant impact on the waste and recycling industry. Not only will the ban impact the recycling industry in the U.S., but also the Chinese manufacturing industry that relies on those materials.
Amount of materials are exported to China
Although the ban has identified a number of different materials, there is still confusion about which products will be impacted. At this point, mixed paper and post-consumer plastics appear to be included in the ban. In the U.S., a significant amount of those materials are exported to China.
In 2016, approximately 41% of paper recovered in the North Americas was exported with about a quarter of recyclable paper exported to Chinese mills. Similarly, over 20% of post consumer bottles and 33% of non bottle rigid plastics from the U.S. were exported in 2015.
Impact from this ban
With the amount of recyclables currently transported to China, the ability of the American markets to absorb the banned materials would be strained. At a minimum, this is anticipated to affect the costs of these materials. However, it could result in the lack of markets for some of the materials altogether forcing material to be landfilled.
The U.S. recycling industry relies on the mostly volunteer efforts of the public to separate their recyclables from their waste. Should banned materials end up landfilled, the public confidence could be shaken creating long term consequences in material quality and segregation efforts.
What NWRA is doing
NWRA has been working with its members and other associations to raise awareness within both the U.S. and Chinese governments. We have encouraged the Chinese government to reconsider the implementation and discuss using strict international standards to control the quality of recyclable materials rather than pursue and outright ban these materials.
Two weeks ago, NWRA presented comments to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in response to China’s July 18 filing.
By issuing the comments, the NWRA joined the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, which has issued several responses, and the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), which issued its own response last week.