SA Government’s response to China waste ban

The SA Government has allocated $300,000 in grant funding to recycling businesses, in a bid to strengthen the local market.

It follows the recent Chinese international waste bans, which saw a crackdown on imports of 24 different types of solid waste from Japan, USA, Australia and other source countries.

China’s National Sword Program and import restrictions have impacted the South Australian recycling industry that relied on exporting material such as scrap plastics, metals, paper, cardboard and textiles overseas.

Related stories

The Recycling Market Development Grants Programme, funded through statutory body Green Industries SA, aims to assist businesses to invest in activities that will overcome market barriers to accepting products with recycled-content.

Sustainability, Environment and Conservation Minister Ian Hunter said the grants are a timely aid to bolstering SA recycling businesses.

“Strengthening the local market and secondary re-manufacturing industry will also develop our economy and act as a buffer against the risks associated with selling into overseas commodity markets,” he said.

“Equally important is the need to improve market confidence in using recycled-material products as a viable option so eligible activities for funding include those which validate the quality and performance of local recycled materials or recycled-content products and develop new or expand existing markets for such products.”

Examples of activities that are eligible for the grant include testing product quality to improve the local market’s confidence in recycled products, and developing or expanding existing markets for them.


Visy reportedly invokes “force majeure”

Recycling company Visy has reportedly told two council contractors it will no longer accept recyclable material from February 9.

In a letter reportedly seen by News Corp, Visy invoked “force majeure”, otherwise known as unforeseen circumstances to suspend contracts, citing the China waste ban and collapse of the recycling materials market.

In a statement to News Corp, Environment Minister Lily D’Ambriosio said the state government would look into the problem.

Related stories:

“I have asked for a meeting with these businesses to seek an explanation into what’s happened and will be discussing these matters with local government,” she said.

“I will be seeking assurances from all relevant parties to ensure this will have no impact on Victorians.”

Warrnambool based company Wheelie Waste was informed of the move on January 24. Other councils may be affected, but reports indicate this has not been confirmed yet.

Polytrade and SKM Recycling is reportedly negotiating with councils and contractors to find a solution over the next 10 days.

Citywide, owned by the City of Melbourne, told the publication its contract with Visy would remain.

China waste ban to hit WA

China’s foreign waste ban could see an increase in Perth’s household waste charges and see recycling rates fall.

The Chinese Government has said it would stop accepting recycled waste such as papers and plastics from overseas countries from the end of the year.

Related stories:

This move will have a major impact on Perth’s resource recovery centres, which collect recyclable waste for city councils and process it into products that can be sold.

With sales under threat as a result, it could lead to higher household recycling charges.

Data from the most recent census has shown that Perth has the lowest recycling rate compared to the other major Australian cities. If recovery centres lose momentum, the amount of waste sent to the tip could increase.

State Environment Minister Stephen Dawson told News Corp the decision is a worry.

“I am increasingly concerned with the recent decision by the Chinese Government to cease accepting a range of solid wastes, including recyclables, from Australia in 2018,” Mr Dawson said.

“WA is in the process of implementing significant reform in the waste sector. Cost-efficient recycling of materials is key to delivering better outcomes across the state.

“The loss of opportunities to manage recycling with our international trading partners risks becoming a major barrier to reform in this State. I have written to the Federal Government to explore opportunities to work with them to mitigate or minimise the impacts of this ban on West Australians.”

State General Manager of SUEZ Nial Stock said that without China, ratepayers could have to pay more for recycling services. He confirmed China’s importance within WA’s recycling exports.

“In the end the ratepayer will pay extra for the recycling that goes on at their house,” he said.



WMAA responds to China waste ban

The Waste Management Association of Australia (WMAA) has responded to China’s intention to ban imports of 24 categories of solid waste to the country (including plastics, paper and textiles waste).

The last World Trade Organization (WTO) report indicates that the ban will take place at the end of 2017. WTO reports China representatives said the measure is aimed at addressing risks of pollution from solid waste, and seeks to protect the environment and human health. A six month transition period has been provided, and China said it had further clarified the scope of the measure based on comments from WTO members.

The European Union, Japan, the United States, Australia and Canada have questioned the broad scope of the measure, and whether it applied to domestic operators in the same way as foreign operators. They asked China for a longer transition period of up to five years.

Related stories:

In a statement, WMAA said industry had signalled to government for a long time that relying on the export markets for recyclables was dangerous and now it find itself, with the change in China’s legislation, walking towards this inevitability.

“Whilst stockpiling is a legitimate business practice, we know that the community is not happy with simply stockpiling recyclable materials, they rightly want this material to be used in making other products in Australia – reducing reliance on natural material,” said WMAA CEO Gayle Sloan.

WMAA’s statement said Australia needs to act now to ensure that the circular economy is real.

“It is not enough that products we purchase in Australia are capable of being recycled, we need to ensure that they are also made from recycled material,” Ms Sloan, said.

“In this way we can create real demand for commodities like those that households put in their yellow bins.”

“This is simply too important an issue for the Federal Environment and Energy Minister, Josh Frydenberg, to continue to repeat his mantra ‘it is up to the states’ this is one that the Federal Government actually needs to step up to the plate on,” Ms Sloan said.

WMAA said all levels of government, including national, need to put policies in place that support the development of sustainable secondary markets for recycled materials.

“The best first step would be sustainable procurement being introduced nationally by all, allowing government to actually walk the talk and model these behaviours,” Ms Sloan said.

WMAA noted investment in new recycling infrastructure creates construction jobs and economic activity that provides a real boost to local economies. While the change in China’s legislation can be seen as a short-term crisis, WMAA argued in reality the change to a circular economy will not only bring long term employment, through green-collar manufacturing, but also sustainable economic growth.

“We have seen the change that programs like War on Waste have had on supermarkets. Let’s get the changes we need to ensure that packagers are using recycled products as an input in all they do – but we cannot do this without the support of government,” Ms Sloan said.

Container Deposit Schemes are being introduced nationally, and WMAA said the key is that the recycled product made in Australia is re-used by the beverage companies that participate in this scheme.

WMAA said it has discussed the circular economy with the industry, generators, and the community, with their support offered.

WTO members question China import waste ban

Five World Trade Organization (WTO) members have questioned China’s import ban on solid waste, notably certain scrap materials, at the 3 October meeting of the WTO Committee on Import Licensing.

It comes after China notified the WTO that it would be imposing a ban on imports of certain kinds of solid waste by the end of 2017.

The United States, the European Union, Australia, Canada and Korea have asked for more information on which types of materials would be affected. Members noted that this issue was of great interest to their business sectors.

Related stories:

The United States raised significant concerns with the changes to import licensing with regards to China’s implementation of an existing import ban on plastic and paper scrap. The US asked whether China has plans to extend the measure to cover ferrous and non-ferrous scrap, and if so, when this would be put into place and under what procedures. The US asked China to adhere to notification obligations, particularly for ferrous and non-ferrous scrap, arguing that this constituted a multi-billion market for US stakeholders.

Canada argued in the meeting that the recently announced restrictions were already creating problems for traders in the nation. It said it wanted to know the specific products China would ban as part of its catalogue of solid waste

Canada said it shares the concern of the United States as the recently announced restrictions were already creating issues for its traders. Canada said it wanted to know the specific products China intended to ban as part of the catalogue of solid waste.

Australia noted it had raised similar concerns over this issue both in Geneva and in Beijing. The EU also requested more details on the policy. Korea said it will closely monitor the measures and that it will further cooperate with China as necessary.

China’s delegation responded that it will forward these concerns to its capital for consideration.

The chair said the next WTO Committee meeting is tentatively scheduled for 20 April 2018.

Transport’s macroeconomic headwind

When the world’s biggest consumer of raw materials decided it would no longer accept imports of 24 categories of solid waste, it sent a shock through Australia’s transport and waste industry. 

In July of this year, China notified the World Trade Organization that it plans to ban the import of 24 different types of solid waste from Japan, USA, Australia and other source countries, in a bid to reduce pollution. The ban is expected to take full effect by the end of 2017.

When looking at plastic waste alone, in 2016, China imported 7.3 million metric tons of plastic waste worldwide worth $3.7 billion, accounting for more than half of global imports, according to figures from the Ministry of Environmental Protection. The Economist reported that China imported 45 million tonnes of scrap metal, waste paper and plastic from overseas countries in 2016, which together is worth more than $18 billion. Locally, the Australian Bureau of Statistics found in its 2013 Waste Account data that China received 32 per cent of the total value of Australia’s waste exports in 2011-12. That same financial year, Australia’s main export to China was metal, which account for 31 per cent of all materials, while China received 64 per cent of its Australian from paper and cardboard.

The decision to ban the 24 categories sparked concern from the Australian Peak Shippers Association (APSA), which is still grappling with the consequences as it collaborates with the federal government on trade issues. A report by the Freight & Trade Alliance indicates that the list of some of the affected products in Australia includes plastic waste from living sources, unsorted waste paper, vanadium and waste textile raw materials. China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection has indicated it will still allow some kinds of steel and non-ferrous scrap, while items to be completely banned include tyres, textiles, plastic, glass and old medicines.

ASPA Secretariat Travis Brooks-Garrett says that although the ban does not extend to all waste products, it is the most severe move to date under China’s anti-foreign garbage campaign. He says the ban could have significant consequences for the way Australia treats waste domestically, in increasing our landfill task, but may also signal further bans on imported waste products. Travis says that any such move would need to be closely scrutinised against China’s World Trade Organisation (WTO) obligations.

He says APSA has been working closely with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in response to the announcement, alongside the major waste industry bodies. Travis says that the Federal Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade held a roundtable with industry representatives in August and will follow up with the relevant Chinese authorities to seek further information regarding the many questions raised.

“The response from both the office of Steve Ciobo (the Federal Minister for Trade) and from the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade, was immediate and reflected the concerns of industry, and for that they should be commended,” he notes.

Industry consultant, Mike Haywood, says he was able to foresee the ban. The writing was on the wall, he says, with previous crackdowns on plastic waste through policies such as National Sword 2017. The policy was launched earlier this year, as China’s General Administration of Customs announced an intention to reduce and eliminate the illegal smuggling of foreign waste. For years, China had already been clamping down on its inspection of secondary commodities. From February 2013 to November 2013, the national custom agency launched Operation Green Fence, a plan to prohibit the import of unwashed and contaminated materials from entering China.

“We are pushing down the track of a circular economy and while we’re doing that the main market for our commodities is slowly but surely closing up,” Mike says.

Read the full story on page 59 of Issue 14.