China starts National Sword campaign to target ‘foreign waste’ smuggling

China has announced a year-long crackdown on the illegal smuggling of foreign waste, at the same time as it carries on its policy of not accepting legal shipments if they are too contaminated, sending 160 containers of contaminated paper recycling back to Ireland.

China starts National Sword campaign to target ‘foreign waste’ smuggling
China’s General Administration of Customs announced the year-long ‘National Sword 2017’ campaign to cut the illegal smuggling of ‘foreign waste’ and other products including agricultural products, resource products, tax-related goods, drugs and guns earlier this month.

According to China’s Xinhua news agency, the department also said that it would target ‘industrial waste, electronic scrap and plastics’, as well as ‘gangs and well-organised operations acting illegally’.

Through the campaign, Chinese customs officials will strengthen their cooperation with local authorities as well as with relevant government departments and industry associations.

Steve Wong, Executive Vice-President of the China Scrap Plastics Association, said in a statement: “According to market intelligence, the focus of plastic waste items for crackdown this time include e-waste, household waste, agricultural films and tubes, bottles, et cetera. Although the kick-off may happen anytime now, one or two coastal ports are still ‘open’ for importing.”

The legal import of recyclable material that was overly contaminated has already been the subject of Chinese government intervention. In 2013, it brought in a programme known as Operation Green Fence, which was billed as an aggressive inspection effort to lower the amount of contaminated recyclables and waste being sent to China.

Unlike that campaign, this one is aimed at addressing deliberate smuggling attempts.

Illegal activity in the import and export of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) in China was the subject of a bill introduced to the US Congress in July 2016, after a study by the Senate Armed Services Committee found 1,800 cases of counterfeit parts in military technology.

More than 70 per cent of the cases were traced back to Guangdong Province in southern China, where, the study said, the counterfeiting industry coverts them into products that seem to be new. 

Later that year, in December, police in the Chinese province of Jiangsu arrested three men as part of an investigation into the illegal recycling of over 3,000 tonnes of hazardous medical waste – worth around £4.5 million – into plastics used for toys and tableware.

In January, China’s National Development and Reform Commission announced an investment worth around £29 billion to address waste collection and treatment and develop ‘non-harmful’ ways of disposing household waste.

Call for Irish action after Chinese shipments sent back

The announcement of the year of action on waste smuggling came as the country also rejected contaminated recycling from Ireland, in a move that continues in the tradition established by Operation Green Fence, when the country said it would no longer accept poorly-sorted shipments of waste.

The Irish Labour Party called this week for the Irish government to take action, after 160 paper recycling containers were returned to Ireland from China due to levels of contamination.

Up to 285 listed shipments of waste leave Ireland each week, and it is estimated that the returned containers will bring a cost to the Irish waste industry of around €500,000 (£422,000). Ireland’s National Transfrontier Shipments Office is now investigating the returned shipments.

The Labour Party says that sources in the waste industry estimate that the contamination rate in Ireland is increasing and now accounts for 40 per cent of recycling bin waste.

Labour Spokesperson on Energy Seán Sherlock said: “We have recycling apartheid throughout the country, as one section of consumers are locked into a monopoly paying high rates of waste fees to contractors outside of the agreement and the other section of consumers able to cherry-pick their recycling habits.”

Deputy Sherlock called on Environment Minister Denis Naughten to outline exactly what his department intends to do on the waste issue, as inaction will lead to more situations where contaminated waste is returned to the country.

“Instead of a cost to the industry of €500,000, this sector should be able to wash its own face, without the need to penalise families around the country. The lack of a clear and transparent waste policy from this government and not a recycling of old statements, means the problem is not simply going to go away.”

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