Throughout the last year, China has put a lock down on plastic sent in from overseas—imported plastics and other scraps that can be reused or recycled. What began as a notice sent to the World Trade Organization (WHO) has now evolved into an all-out ban. That leaves recyclers across the U.S. scrambling to figure out a way to meet China’s near-impossible import standards, while their stockpiles of plastic continue to pile up.
Background on China’s National Sword
The National Sword refers to China’s effort to cut down on “foreign waste” in its plastics. In China’s official notice to the WHO, it stated, “We found that large amounts of dirty wastes or even hazardous wastes are mixed in the solid waste that can be used as raw materials. This has polluted China’s environment seriously.” To meet its goal, China expressed intent to stop importing 24 types of foreign waste.
At the surface, the program is aimed at minimizing impurities in the e-plastic shipments headed to China. But underlying this is what many suspect to be China’s true desire: to put an end to the smuggling of guns, drugs and other illegal products.
The latest developments with China’s ban on plastics
China previously allowed 5 percent of impurities in each bale of imported plastic. Now that the ban is in full operation, starting this year, bales must contain 0.5 percent or less. This extreme standard is near impossible to hit. China is a critical player in the international waste trade. In response, countries such as the U.S., Japan, Australia and others have asked for an extension of the transitional period for the ban to go into effect; many countries are asking for up to five years.
Despite this response, the ban is being carried out, and has resulted in waves of panic on an international scale. Shipments are impacted, stockpiles are growing, and budgets are being re-evaluated. Some recycling facilities, unfortunately, have had to redirect plastic to landfills. And, the value of plastic has since taken a nose drive.
Some Chinese firms have simply picked up and moved: they’ve set up shop within other Asian countries to continue to accept American e-plastic. These facilities are popping up in countries like Malaysia and others, offering a new port for shipments.
However, the long-term impact is very real, and will no doubt be lasting. There’s been a call from leaders within the recycling industry for more innovation. However, to make new technologies into a reality takes time and major investment.
Recycle 1 has put ourselves in a unique position to assist in dealing with this problem. We are one of the very few operations in the entire southwest to have a plastic extrusion machine which we just installed within the last year. So we can process many types of scrap plastic into a usable raw material rather than it needing to go overseas. We look forward to getting the word out that we are here. We are available. And we currently have the capacity to help.