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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