Just as legislation has the power to help a cause, it also can backfire and cause unintentional harm. Such is the nature of China’s latest initiative, the “National Sword” effort of 2017, which aims to crackdown on criminal activity, yet is expected to cause a total hassle for those of us in the U.S. who are—legally—sending recyclable materials to China.

What is the National Sword?

Chinese Impact on U.S. RecyclingThe National Sword is a campaign launched by China’s General Administration of Customs. It’s a one-year initiative with the goal of cutting down on, “foreign waste including plastics, industrial waste, electronics and other household waste materials.”

On a deeper level, the program is looking to put a stop to the smuggling of agricultural products, guns, drugs and more. What this means from a logistics perspective: an increase in inspections, slowdowns on shipments being accepted—and even arrests. Additionally, this means that U.S. recyclers need to assume that each shipping container is going to be extensively x-rayed before being accepted.

In other words: sending recyclables to China is harder than ever. And, it’s more expensive than ever.

What is China’s motivation for the National Sword?

Frankly, the answer changes depending on your resource. China says the National Sword program is meant to eliminate or cut down on low-quality shipments received from poorly run facilities, household waste, undesirable plastic waste and electronic waste.

How this impacts U.S. Recycling

Here’s what’s happening: some shipments of recyclables are getting stalled—and the industry is seeing a noticeable increase in import fees. The industry as a whole is feeling some pain, as its been used to the freedom and flexibility of being able to move recyclable products across seas.

The U.S. has counted on China to accept plastic exports, yet export volume is being dramatically reduced; plastic exports are taking the biggest hit. In fact, “in the category of all plastics other than PET, the U.S. exported 308,000 metric tons to Hong Kong and 180,800 metric tons to the rest of China in 2016, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.” Anything low-grade quality is taking a massive hit, while those exporters who focus in high quality plastics may notice substantially less pain from this legislation.

Additionally, some U.S. plastics buyers—those who take mixed plastics bales—are charging to accept them, versus buying them pre-Sword legislation.

What’s next

The Sword legislation end date is uncertain. U.S. recyclers and sellers are faced to confront that this may become the new reality. Due to the Sword, many exporters are facing the difficult decision of possibly closing altogether or combining forces with one another. An additional opportunity may lie in making inroads in net new markets.

Regardless, your waste is going to be meticulously inspected. Contact Recycle1 to get your questions answered.