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​North American recycling industry reacts to rumours of Chinese scrap commodity import ban

Potential ban being taken very seriously by ISRI

ISRI held a teleconference for industry press on June 13th. The briefing followed two recent visits to China by the organization - to BIR's 2017 World Recycling Convention & Exhibition held May 22-24 in Hong Kong, and more recently to speak with U.S. and Chinese government authorities in Beijing to address industry rumours that have surfaced over the last several months about a potential ban on scrap imports to the country.

"While we were in Hong Kong, there were rumours about a potential ban on the import of scrap commodities into China, which obviously is a major concern to ISRI and the U.S. recycling industry," said ISRI president Robin Weiner. "With more than $5.6 billion in scrap commodities exported from the U.S. to China in any given year, the trade in specification-grade commodities is of paramount importance to us." 

At this point, Weiner emphasized that the potential import ban is rumour only, and no official statement has been made by Chinese authorities, other than one statement made in the Chinese trade press in April stating that a "resolution has been approved that would expand the list of prohibited solid waste materials for import into China." Current rumours also follow the announcement in February about the enactment of the "National Sword" initiative in China, which is focused on addressing issues with quality and smuggling of scrap imports into the country, and which has so far resulted in plastic scrap shipments being rejected or held up for long periods of time in Chinese ports.

"The import ban (which is not directly related to the "National Sword" initiative) appears to be not driven by an issue of quality concerns," Weiner said, emphasizing that at this point the potential ban is likely driven by the Chinese government's aspirations to spur domestic generation of scrap and build the Chinese materials recovery industry overall.
"Over the last month, ISRI has met with U.S. and Chinese government authorities to learn what we could about the potential for a ban," said Weiner. "What we have learned is that commodity-grade materials are being considered for inclusion under a time-frame of six months to five years, for all scrap commodities." She added that ISRI also learned that the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection would be taking the lead on any expansion of the list of banned scrap commodities.

According to Adina Renee Adler, ISRI Sr. Director Government Relations & International Affairs, "While in Beijing, we met with the U.S. embassy which gave us the opportunity to debrief them on the nature of our industry and what we are facing because of "National Sword", and to share with them some of the rumours that we started to hear in Hong Kong.

"Some of those rumours include a tiered timeline for implementation of bans for certain materials. For example, there is a possibility that plastics could be completely eliminated from import into China as early as January 2018, mixed metals within a year or two, and some of the higher value commodities such as paper and nonferrous metals, not for three to five years."

Adler also emphasized that at this point, this is not official information, but based on rumours circulating among ISRI members, some of which are companies based in China. She went on to add that some of the additional information gathered over the last few months includes a change in leadership in China's Ministry of Environmental Protection, and that Chinese officials are also currently working on a revision of regulation #119. (Regulation #119 provides international exporters with guidelines and information on obligations with respect to exporting commodities to China.) ISRI also mentioned that they have been talking with members of the EU scrap industry, who are also concerned, and that they have made sure the current U.S. administration is aware of the potential for a Chinese scrap commodities import ban.

"We think we may hear something official by the first or second week of July," said Adler. 

For now, ISRI's message to the industry is to "sit back and wait" for an official statement from the Chinese government. "We're taking these rumours very seriously, so that in case of the worst, we can be prepared and our members can be prepared," said Weiner. "We want the industry to know we are working aggressively on their behalf to try to address this." RPN

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