China moves towards zero import of solid waste

China is a step closer to making limitations on importing solid waste from international countries including the US, UK and Australia. 

China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee passed legislation last week to revise the country’s solid waste management policies, even though the government continues to approve imports of recovered fiber.

According to the Bureau of International Recycling, a Brussels-based global nonprofit, the revision passed on April 29 shows that China is moving towards gradually realising zero import of solid waste.

Several articles in the new waste law are relevant for businesses outside the country, according to the Bureau of International Recycling.

“The new Chinese waste law is modern and comprehensive and it covers industrial waste as well as waste from households, imports as well as exports,” the Bureau of International Recycling said in a statement.

“This new waste law will make great change within China.”

China’s policy revision is evidence that the country will further restrict and potentially end all waste imports. 

The goal of zero imports was also referenced in an official Chinese document from the National People’s Congress.

Translated to english, Article 24 in the revised waste policy states that the state gradually realizes zero imports of solid waste, “which shall be organised and implemented by the competent department of ecology and environment of the State Council in conjunction with the competent department of commerce, development and reform, customs of the State Council”.

The import note is just one component of the solid waste law revision, which also includes measures reducing single-use plastic production, bolstering domestic recycling capacity and establishing extended producer responsibility for certain products.

Early this year, Chinese officials said the country has a goal to halt all imports of materials deemed waste by the end of 2020.

China has issued six rounds of import permits, allowing a total of 4.5 million tonnes of recovered fiber into the country this year. More recently in February and March, China issued permits approving just 29,000 tonnes.

Last Month, China issued import permits for 1.3 million metric tons of recovered fiber.

In 2018, following the crackdown of waste imports known as National Sword that began a year prior, Chinese officials first stated the country will reduce recovered material imports, ending scrap plastic and mixed paper imports.

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China to ban non-degradable plastic

China is phasing out the sale and manufacture of non-degradable plastic products, with the aim of curbing pollution in major cities.

In addition to setting timelines to ban or restrict single-use, non-degradable plastic products, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment has pledged to ramp up recycling and introduce preferential policies to promote green packaging and express delivery.

According to a ministry statement, the country is expected to significantly reduce the amount of plastic waste sent to landfill and bring plastic pollution under control in major cities by 2025.

The production and sale of disposable foam plastic tableware and plastic cotton swabs will be banned by the end of this year.

The production of household chemicals containing plastic micro-beads will also be prohibited by the end of 2020, with the sale of those products banned by 2022.

“Bans on the sale of other non-degradable plastic products will be rolled out in phases in different levels of cities and major plastic-consuming sectors,” the statement reads.

“The use of non-degradable plastic bags, for example, is expected to vanish in some major consuming sectors, including shopping malls, supermarkets and restaurant takeout services, first in metropolises by the end of this year, and then in all major Chinese cities and urban areas in coastal regions by the end of 2022.”

China Plastic Processing Industry Association Secretary-General Weng Yunxuan has applauded the ban’s phased approach.

“The ban will not be imposed all of a sudden, but phase by phase. The current production capacity (for substitute products) in China will not fail to meet the market gap caused by the ban,” Mr Yunxuan said.

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China to eliminate solid waste imports

China has announced plans to completely eliminate solid waste imports by 2020, according to a recent Reuters report.

Starting in July, China will no longer accept imports of scrap steel, copper or aluminium, with the veto extended to scrap stainless steel and titanium by the end of 2019.

Director of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment’s solid waste division Qiu Qiwen reportedly said at a briefing that the ban aims to block the import of waste products that can be sourced domestically.

According to Reuters, since the 1980’s China has taken in hundreds of millions of tonnes of foreign paper, plastic, electronic waste and scrap metal for recycling.

Beijing began restricting deliveries last year, with customs authorities launching a series of crackdowns on waste smuggling, leading to hundreds of arrests.

Earlier this year India similarly announced a ban on solid plastic imports, after the country saw a drastic increase in waste imports as a result of the market vacuum generated by China’s National Sword policy.

China faces a solid waste treatment backlog of an estimated 60-70 billion tonnes, placing the country under significant pressure to boost its domestic recycling capacity.

Mr Qiwen said China imported 22.6 million tonnes of solid waste last year— down 47 per cent from the previous year.

“If solid waste meets the requirements of China’s import standards and doesn’t contain any hazards, then it can be treated as common commodities, not waste,” Mr Qiwen said.

The announcement follows the January launch of the “waste-free cities” scheme, which aims to boost recycling and encourage the development of alternatives to landfill.

Under the scheme 10 cities will be selected for the first phase, with measures to include better sorting of solid waste, improvements in urban planning and the construction of new treatment facilities.

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Plant waste to power planes

Plant waste from agriculture and timber harvesting could be converted into high-density aviation fuel according to the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics in China.

The research, published in scientific journal Joule, comes at a time when international bodies and governments begin to invest more resources into the issue of organic waste streams, and provides an interesting case study for the future of the industry.

Scientists at the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics have converted cellulose, a polymer formed on plant cell walls, into a high density fuel that can be used as a wholesale replacement or an additive to improve the efficiency of other jet fuels.

While chain alkanes derived from cellulose such as branched octane, dodecane, and hexadecane have previously used for jet-fuel, researchers believe this is the first study to produce more complex polycycloalkane compounds that can be used as high-density aviation fuel.

Author of the study research scientist Ning Li said the new biofuel could be instrumental in helping aviation “go green.”

“Our biofuel is important for mitigating CO2 emissions because it is derived from biomass and has higher density (or volumetric heat values) compared with conventional aviation fuels.

“As we know, the utilisation of high-density aviation fuel can significantly increase the range and payload of aircraft without changing the volume of oil in the tank,” Li said.

Li and his team said the process’ cheap, abundant cellulose feedstock, fewer production steps, and lower energy cost and consumption mean it will soon be ready for commercial use applications.

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National Waste Report 2018 released

Blue Environment has released the 2018 National Waste Report, showing China still remained Australia’s biggest destination for exports of recyclables in 2017-18 despite tightening restrictions.

The latest report is the culmination of two years of work by Blue Environment in obtaining data from the states and territories.

A chart in the latest report shows significant declines in scrap metal (23 per cent), plastics (79 per cent) and paper and cardboard (39 per cent) in 2017-18.

The report shows Australians generated 67 million tonnes of waste in 2016-17 with 37 million recycled.

The numbers are largely similar to the 66 million tonnes generated in 2014-15 and 36 million recycled.

Prepared for the Department of the Environment and Energy, the report looks at the waste management method, including the infrastructure that treats it (landfill, compost, alternative waste treatment) and waste fate (disposal, recycling, energy recovery and long-term storage.

In terms of waste stream data, hazardous waste comprised 6.3 million tonnes generated in 2016-17, with 27 per cent recycled, 59 per cent landfilled and 13 per cent sent to a treatment facility. From 2006-07 to 2016-17, hazardous waste generation increased by about 26 per cent, while the recycling rate decreased from 34 to 27 per cent. More than half of this increase is attributed to greater quantities of materials, including contaminated soil.

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It also shows 30 million tonnes of organic waste was generated in 2016-17, remaining fairly stable over an 11-year period while Australia’s population increased. The recycling rate over this time increased from 39 to 52 per cent.

The report details data and information on numerous industry issues, including National Sword and waste stockpiling.

“Waste stockpiling is a significant concern and has resulted in several recent major fires. Substantial stockpiling of C&D waste and glass is understood to occur,” the report says.

“Reporting on stockpiles is limited by lack of data. Ideally, this report would account for additions to and removals from stockpiles in the reporting year.”

“Unrecorded waste in stockpiles leads to underestimates of waste generation. Recorded waste in stockpiles (e.g. at a glass recycling plant) leads to overestimates of recycling.”

The report also displays exports of waste materials for recycling during the 12 years to 2017-18 and shows a long-term increase in exports, except for a decline between 2013-14 and 2015-16 which it attributes to a scrap metals decline.

It shows two charts that suggest that exports of waste materials for recycling were strongly affected by the Chinese restrictions, but the displaced materials mostly found new export destinations. The breakdown shows this occurred for paper and plastics and in both cases increased to Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand.

“Despite its restrictions and reduced Australian imports, in 2017-18 China remained Australia’s biggest destination for exports of waste materials for recycling.”

In a later section on China’s restrictions, the report acknowledges many companies have been forced to absorb financial losses and remain financially stricken, with local governments and ratepayers facing higher costs.

“The Chinese restrictions have been closely watched by other major importers of waste materials, and this year Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam have each announced tighter controls over imports of waste materials.

“It is likely that export markets for waste materials for recycling will become more constrained globally, and Australia will need to increase on-shore recycling of the major export commodities of metals, paper and cardboard and plastics.”

You can read the full National Waste Report here. 

 

Scrunching the issue of soft plastics

The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) has compiled a comprehensive gap analysis on the market barriers to recovering soft plastics. Waste Management Review sat down with APCO’s Brooke Donnelly to discuss how it fits into the broader plastics issue.

Read moreScrunching the issue of soft plastics

SUEZ NWS JV to build $74M hazardous waste treatment – China

SUEZ NWS and Chinese chemical company Shanghai Huayi have entered into a joint venture to provide hazardous waste treatment and recovery solutions to Qinzhou, part of the Guangxi province in China.

The agreement allows a joint venture between SUES NSW (51 per cent) and Huayi Group (49 per cent) to construction, finance and operate an energy recovery unit for the hazardous waste produced by the Qinzhou Harbour Economic and Technical Development Zone of Guangxi Province for the next 50 years.

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Around $74.5 million (€46 million) has been invested into the facility, which will have an annual treatment capacity of around 27,000 tonnes.

Construction of the unit will begin in 2018 and be operational by 2021.

The facility aims to provide a safe and environmentally friendly method of disposing of hazardous waste, with a unit designed and built according to European standards for air emissions. It is estimated to recover around 78,000 tonnes of steam and reduce the amount of greenhouses gasses by the equivalent of more than 10,000 tonnes of coal per year.

Shanghai Huayi Head of Environmental Protection department Wang Wen Xi said the company was delighted to partner with SUEZ Group on sustainable industrialisation.

“We have every confidence that by combining our strengths, we will achieve excellence in the Qinzhou project, for the benefit of China’s environmental sector. We plan to work with industrialists in more locations to achieve China’s noble environmental ambitions,” Mr Wen Xi said.

SUEZ CEO Jean-Louis Chaussade said the agreement is an important testament to the shared commitment of promoting a circular economy and green growth between China and France.

“We provide our expertise to several industrial parks with a view to reducing their environmental footprint and we aim to pursue our development on the basis of a partnership model. The project developed by SUEZ and Shanghai Huayi in Qinzhou is a perfect example of Sino-French cooperation,” Mr Chaussade said.

City of Ballarat signs waste to energy agreement with MRCB

A due diligence study can now be undertaken for the construction of a $300 million municipal waste to energy plant in the Ballarat West Employment Zone.

It comes as a result of the City of Ballarat signing a Waste to Energy Heads of Agreement with the Malaysian Resources Corporation Berhad (MRCB).

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The City of Ballarat has been planning for a waste to energy facility for five years, which would divert 60 per cent of the city’s waste into an energy source for industries and reduce the current regional landfill’s environmental impacts.

Currently, 30,000 tonnes of waste are deposited in the landfill each year, with waste disposal costing more than $18 million per year.

It is estimated that the plant would increase the size of Ballarat’s economy by $202 million through building and flow on effects, with about 420 jobs created during construction and 120 ongoing jobs.

MRCB’s technology partner, Babcock and Wilcox Volund, built its first waste to energy plant in 1931 and has gone on to build more in the United States, China, Sweden, Ireland, Denmark, Malaysia and Korea.

City of Ballarat Mayor Cr Samantha McIntosh said the Western region was already a leader in renewable energy production, particularly wind energy, but this announcement would further enhance its standing.

“Signing this Heads of Agreement means we are one significant step closer to a Waste to Energy plant in Ballarat that would be a regional solution to our waste reduction issues while providing an affordable and reliable energy source,” Cr McIntosh said.

“It would also be a driving force in attracting industries and employment to BWEZ by delivering a uniquely competitive advantage.”

“We will also maintain our commitment to minimising waste through continual education about re-use and recycling.”

MRCB’s Group Managing Director Imran Salim arrived from Kuala Lumpur to witness the Heads of Agreement signing by Ravi Krishnan, CEO of MRCB International.

“MRCB is delighted to be in Ballarat and looks forward to working closely with the City of Ballarat and the wider community on providing a world class facility,” Mr Salim said.

New information on Tasmanian Container Refund Scheme released

A Tasmanian round table discussion has seen local government and the waste industry agree to the creation of a Waste Action Plan, amid the release of a report on the potential framework for a Container Refund Scheme.

Consulting firm Marsden Jacob Associates (MJA) has detailed the model framework for a Tasmanian Container Refund Scheme (CRS).

The report concluded the scheme should include common features with similar schemes, such as the eligible containers and price.

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It has allocated 18 months to set up the scheme and found the total funding requirement over 20 years would be $239 million, of which $138 million are refunded deposits. The costs of running the scheme were found to be around $101 million, or 4 cents per eligible container.

A redemption rate of at least 80 per cent was outlined, with a target of at least 60 refund points. Graduated sanctions were recommended for failing to meet these targets, with a verifiable auditing and tracking system required to ensure the objectives are met.

Potential cost savings for local councils were found, with beverage container litter estimated to fall by half, with an 80 per cent redemption rate.

MJA said in the report that the market should be allowed to determine the operational details of the system. The firm estimates nominal price impacts on consumers who don’t redeem the containers would start at around 10 cents per container and rise over time to 16 cents, with cost impacts on redeemers being around 10 cents lower.

Another finding from the report said the CRS should be run by a single co-ordinator and operator, set up as a product stewardship organisation (PSO). This PSO would be overseen by a board of directors that is representative of the industry and ensures access to relevant expertise.

The Action Plan will aim to consider initiatives like the CRS as part of the broader context across Tasmania. It will be further developed following China’s increased restriction on solid waste imports.

With the implementation of stricter contamination levels for imported waste, the amount of recyclate and waste that it will accept has decreased significantly, affecting Australia’s waste industry.

Tasmanian Minister for the Environment Elise Archer said the government will continue to consider the views of local government, industry, business and the community regarding a CRS and a range of other initiatives in developing the Waste Action Plan.

Local Government Association of Tasmania President Doug Chipman said that local government has welcomed the round table.

“The impacts of China’s restrictions are being felt deeply by councils and the community’s interest in waste management in general has risen significantly,” Cr Chipman said.

“We have five motions on waste at our upcoming LGAT General Meeting and I look forward to collaborating with the State Government in addressing these issues.”

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