China could introduce further waste material restrictions by 2019

China is eyeing further restrictions on waste imports in the coming years beyond those set to come into force from the start of 2018, according to a new paper by the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED).

The group, which is an international advisory body consisting of experts from China and the international community in the field of development and the environment in China and includes China’s Vice Premier and Li Ganjie, the Environmental Protection Minister, will present the paper at its annual conference in Beijing this week.

While acknowledging the eruption of anxiety amongst exporters in Europe and the US following China’s announcement in the summer that it would be banning ‘many types of plastics, unsorted scrap paper and some metal scrap’ by December 2017, the paper goes on to say that ‘a further stop to waste material imports will be in place by 2019’ through the substitution of imports with domestic sources of raw and recycled materials.China could introduce further waste material restrictions by 2019

The waste imports ban is accompanied by a contamination limit for imports of waste 0.5 per cent, higher than the original 0.3 per cent proposed in August but still some way below the current 1.5 per cent limit.

These policies follow on from this year’s National Sword campaign, which saw a crackdown on the smuggling of foreign waste, and 2013’s Operation Green Fence, which sought to reduce the import of low-quality recyclables.

According to the paper, the moves are part of China’s 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2021) and its drive to create an ‘Ecological Civilisation’ that supports ways of life that are harmonious and respectful of nature, to fulfil the ‘Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation’ promulgated by the central government and to have China recognised as ‘a green beacon for the world community’.

2017 has seen China push forward with its environmental policies, both at home and abroad. Increased compliance inspections on imports, a series of ‘War on Pollution’ action plans to combat water, air and soil pollution and its embrace of the sharing economy has seen China forge new paths for environmental protection on the home front, while support for the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Paris Climate Agreement has seen China show itself to be willing to take up the mantle on environmental stewardship seemingly discarded by the US under the leadership of Donald Trump.

The paper goes on to detail ten challenges that need to be resolved if China is to achieve the benchmark targets for fulfilling the Chinese Dream: poverty basically eliminated in China by 2020, basic modernisation achieved by 2035, and the confirmation of China’s status as a strong and prosperous nation by 2050.

These challenges include creating a 10- to 15-year strategy for the ‘War on Pollution’ action plans, ensuring every city and town in China manages the implementation of their own green development and ecological civilisation goals during the 2020-2035 period, taking an ‘Ecological Civilisation’ approach to production, consumption, trade and investment, and to set long-term pathways and targets for 2050-2100 for China’s ‘Ecological Civilisation’ through the pursuit of a national ‘zero carbon economy’ and for ‘living within planetary boundaries’.

Recycling industry urges action

The news that China has no intention of easing up on its crackdown on foreign waste imports is likely to do little to calm the nerves of a UK recycling industry still rocking from the announcement of the waste materials ban in July and one that appears to receive little support from a prevaricating government, with Environment Secretary Michael Gove admitting to the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) to having “not given sufficient thought” to the possible impacts of China’s ban on 24 grades of waste material, due to come into effect on 1 January.

China is a hugely important end destination for UK waste. In 2015, the UK exported around 4.5 million tonnes of its waste to China for recycling or recovery, almost one-third of its exported waste. In 2016, 74 per cent of the waste paper the UK exported went to China, while 55 per cent of the UK’s exported recovered plastics went to China and Hong Kong.

Several public calls have been made by the industry for government to address the issue, with a joint letter to Resources Minister Therese Coffey by the Resource Association, the Recycling Association, the Confederation of Paper Industries (CPI) and Environmental Services Association (ESA) in September urging the Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra) to ‘take urgent action’ to support the recycling industry.

An earlier letter by the Recycling Association and the CPI, delivered in August to International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, Business Secretary Greg Clark, Environment Secretary Michael Gove and Minister of State for Asia and the Pacific at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office Mark Field, called on the government to enter into diplomatic negotiations with China over the proposed ban of scrap plastics and unsorted paper.

The China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development’s report can be read in English on the group’s website.

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