China has banned imports of most recycling materials. The ban affects only low-grade recyclables, such as mixed paper. High-quality recyclables, such as sorted uncoated paper, are not subject to the ban. The initial ban of 24 categories of materials took place in September, and it was announced today that 32 more categories are being added at the end of 2018 and 2019. At CNN:
- China to U.S.: Please stop sending us your junk (2017-09-11)
- China trash ban is a global recycling wake up call (2018-04-20)
A narrow waste materials ban is not very big in financial terms. Perhaps China’s spending on scrap materials will decline from $5 billion to $4 billion annually. The back-up of waste materials around the world, though, shows the need to build recycling plants closer to the point of trash collection. It makes little economic sense for around one fifth of the world’s scrap materials to be sent to China for processing. Instead, the materials should be recycled into graded base materials that can be shipped more easily and can be sold to manufacturers in China and elsewhere at much higher prices.
The change also highlights the need for trash companies to clean up their act. Authorities cited garbage and hazardous materials mixed in with recyclables as the problem that prompted the ban. These waste materials need to be separated out more effectively and as early as possible in the trash-processing chain.
It may also be that the decline in manufacturing volume has reduced the demand for recycled plastic and paper. If this is the case, it makes sense that the lowest grades of materials would be diverted to incineration and other uses, while the better grades of materials were still in demand.