Ministers urged to pressure China on ban on waste imports

Government ministers need to engage in diplomatic negotiations over China’s proposed ban on all imports of scrap plastics and unsorted paper, say the Recycling Association and Confederation of Paper Industries.

Ministers urged to pressure China on ban on waste imports
Following the Chinese government’s notification to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) of its intention to implement the ban by the start of 2018, the two trade associations have joined to outline their concerns in a letter to four ministers: 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.

The crux of the letter revolves around the fact that the Chinese government submitted its notification to the WTO on 18 July 2017, but only gave until 20 July for comments to be submitted.

Both associations state that 60 days is the standard time in which comments can be made on such decisions and are asking the UK government to negotiate an extension with the Chinese government to give the industry time to co-operate with China on improving recyclate quality.

Commenting on the letter, Recycling Association President Adrian Jackson said: “Both The Recycling Association and Confederation of Paper Industries believe that it is important to make representation to the UK government over the Chinese WTO notification.

“This action by the Chinese government seems draconian and against the spirit of international trade, especially as many companies, including our members, have worked hard to improve quality.”

In the letter, the associations affirm their support for the Chinese government’s drive to improve environmental standards and the health of the general population.

However, they note that the recycling industry has already made improvements in recyclate quality, and further improvements will require the co-operation and action of all at all stages of the supply chain including manufacturers, retailers, local authorities, recyclers, waste management companies and shipping lines.

The letter also highlights the fact that, in a globalised international market, much of the recyclate shipped to China will be derived from Chinese manufactured products, and states that Chinese manufacturers must bear some of the responsibility for this. Finally, the letter calls for international standards for the export of high-quality recyclate, something which the UK should be engaging in.

Jackson added: “For those materials that are still allowed to be exported to China, this ban should serve as a warning. Unless the whole supply chain takes responsibility for the recyclability of a product at the end of its life, then key markets such as China will disappear. As a result, we have also asked the government to help us make the entire supply chain aware of the need to improve quality.”

China’s waste war

Despite the shock with which China’s announcement was greeted by the recycling sector, China has previous in this regard, and has seen a policy shift concerning waste and clean energy production, declaring at the start of the year that the government was dedicating an additional 252 billion yuan (£29 billion) over the next three years to address the country’s waste problem.

Long a destination for lower quality recyclate from the West, China’s proposed ban is only the most recent in a series of crackdowns on the import of foreign waste, the latest being the National Sword campaign, launched in February 2017, run by the country’s General Administration of Customs to come down hard on the illegal smuggling of ‘foreign waste’ and other products, accompanied by more rigorous inspections of legal shipments. The campaign has already resulted in hundreds of containers full of imported waste turned away at Chinese ports.

The National Sword campaign bears more than a close resemblance to a previous campaign known as Operation Green Fence, which was launched in 2013 and saw a more stringent approach from Chinese customs officials towards incoming shipments of foreign waste, with 800,000 tonnes rejected in the first six months and 247 companies losing their import licences.

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