Last year, China notified the World Trade Organization (WTO) of its intent to forbid 24 kinds of solid wastes by the end of 2017 and to lower contamination thresholds. This action sparked an immediate reaction from three major waste and recycling associations—the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) and the National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA)—which submitted multiple filings and feedback regarding China’s intentions.
The comments issued by the associations urged the Chinese government to add more specificity to the guidelines, issue a delay in implementation of any import regulations and reduce the proposed contamination standard of 0.5 percent. But despite these efforts, China’s waste import ban went into effect this month and the proposed contamination standard was finalized by China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) on January 11, remaining unchanged at 0.5 percent.
This decision was not one that the industry wanted, and ISRI, NWRA and SWANA have released statements on the finalized contamination standard, which will go into effect on March 1.
“SWANA is disappointed the Chinese government did not modify its waste import restrictions in response to the serious concerns raised by North American, European and Asian governmental authorities and associations,” said David Biderman, executive director and CEO of SWANA, in a statement. “We support the MEP’s efforts to improve the environment in China, but these extraordinary restrictions are already adversely impacting recycling programs throughout North America.”
SWANA went on to explain that many American and Canadian companies and local governments have made substantial changes to their operations in response to the restrictions and the sharp decrease in import licenses issued by Beijing in late 2017-early 2018.
“Recyclables are going to landfills in Oregon, to waste-to-energy facilities in Massachusetts and being stored in warehouses and parking lots in the U.S. and Canada,” said Biderman in a statement. In addition, municipal governments in Lane County, Ore., Madison, Wis., and elsewhere are no longer accepting plastics they used to collect, and both Oregon’s and Washington’s environmental agencies are addressing emerging changes on their websites.
ISRI also expressed its disappointment in the finalized Environmental Protection Control Standards for Imports of Solid Wastes as Raw Materials (GB 16487.2-13).
“ISRI is very disappointed to see the Chinese Government finalizing its Environmental Protection Control Standards and failing to take the opportunity to bring them in line with global standards that reflect manufacturing requirements and are utilized by environmentally responsible recycling operations in the U.S. and around the world,” said Robin Wiener, president of ISRI, in a statement. “We continue to be supportive of the Chinese government’s drive to improve the environment in China, but we continue to hope that such support can be realized through collaboration that achieves China’s environmental improvement goals without impairing trade of high-quality, specification-grade scrap commodities required by China’s manufacturing sector. ISRI continues to respectfully request an opportunity for dialogue on these critical issues and obtain a delay in implementation to ensure full compliance.”
NWRA, meanwhile, believes that the short-term challenges that will come along with the new contamination standard will give way to new opportunities.
“NWRA has always supported China’s efforts to improve its environment. However, we believe there are better ways to achieve those goals than to tighten restrictions on imported recyclables,” said Darrell Smith, president and CEO of NWRA, in a statement. “We have said before that the 0.5 percent standard would be nearly impossible for our members to meet and it could cause some short-term disruptions in the industry. However, it could also present opportunities as our members continue to adjust. As an association, we will continue to work with our industry partners and the federal government to reduce the burden these stringent rules have placed on the waste and recycling industry.”
Going forward into 2018 and beyond, the associations have stated that they will continue to follow this development and its impact on the industry. They have also expressed their commitment to working closely with governments, stakeholders and the public and private sectors on education efforts and contamination reduction efforts.