China launches latest customs crackdown on ‘smuggling of foreign rubbish’
China has announced the launch of a new customs crackdown on the smuggling of foreign waste, entitled ‘Blue Sky 2018’, which will run from March to December 2018.
Launched yesterday (6 March) by the General Administration of Customs of the People’s Republic of China, the country’s customs authority, Blue Sky follows in the same vein as previous campaigns including 2013’s Operation Green Fence and 2017’s National Sword Campaign.
This campaign will focus on the 24 grades of solid waste banned from the start of the year, including unsorted mixed papers and post-consumer plastics, as well as enforcing the contamination limit of 0.5 per cent for all other materials which was imposed on 1 March.
According to Zhang Guangzhi, a spokesperson for China’s customs authority, the networks which facilitate the ‘smuggling of foreign rubbish’, such as waste-trafficking gangs and smuggling channels, will be the targets of concerted action, while the supervision of imported waste will be strengthened through co-operation with environmental and law enforcement authorities.
It was also announced that between 2 February - which marked the launch of the first anti-smuggling raids of the year in Shenzhen, Tianjin, Harbin and Qingdao - and 27 February, the General Administration of Customs had uncovered 69 cases of smuggled waste amounting to 50,000 tonnes of illegal material.
The launch of the new customs operation reinforces China’s determination to clean up its act on the environment; ‘Blue Sky’ is a reference to clearing the thick layer of smog that has become synonymous with Chinese urbanisation.
Further restrictions could be on the horizon, with a paper released in December 2017 by the China Council for international Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED) suggesting that ‘a further stop to waste material imports will be in place by 2019’, while Chinese Premier Xi Jinping declared his intention to completely ban the import of ‘foreign garbage’ at the 2018 National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
The prospect of further restrictions will be greeted with dismay by the UK recycling industry, which has been scrambling to find alternative end destinations for the 494,000 tonnes of plastics and 1.4 million tonnes of recovered paper it sends to China every year. In January, at a hearing led by Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee on the impact of the first wave of restrictions, Craig Curtis of the Recycling Association described the measures as ‘the biggest problem the recycling industry has ever faced’.