World recycling organisations commence reopening phase

The world’s recycling industry has been preparing changes to operations following the ease of shutdown restrictions across global networks.

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) has collected feedback on the impact of the virus around the world, with specific regard to how it is affecting the recycling industry.

The BIR said in a statement that plastics recyclers face the challenge of low selling prices for their materials, while suppliers are unable to reduce their own selling prices owing to the high cost of shipping and the impact on availability of the lockdowns in exporting countries.

“The situation will improve only when all countries lift their lockdowns and resume their economic activities as before the COVID-19 outbreak,” the BIR stated.

According to the BIR’s statement, Asia’s demand for recycled materials is at only 30-40 per cent of pre-pandemic levels amid a slowdown in volumes requested by the plastics manufacturing industry and cancellation of overseas orders.

Recycling units in Europe have remained open throughout the crisis owing to their crucial role in waste management. 

BIR stated that Italy’s metals sector reopened on May 4, which will help improve business in the waste sector as operations resume following many weeks of lockdown.

Europe’s recycling industry, especially in Italy, has sustained high costs through guaranteeing to stay open during the lockdown despite very low levels of business.

BIR stated that ASSOFERMET, UNIRIMA and ASSORIMAP, Italy’s three national associations covering recycling commodities, have drafted a letter to the government to reinforce this message and to call for a change of mindset now that the COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated the essential nature of recycling and of waste management as a whole.

According to the BIR’s research, 73 per cent of recycling centres have remained open to receive materials in France. 

Specific to recovered paper, mills in France are expected to encounter small shortages in May despite ongoing collection and sorting activities. 

In the UK, the government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has already issued an instruction for the reopening of local authority household waste and recycling centres.

“Reopening could provide a minor boost for some larger metal recyclers with contracts to collect the household metals gathered at these sites,” the BIR stated.

“The BMRA has advocated the reopening of these centres to counter increased dumping of large domestic appliances and to avoid the fire risk posed to metal recyclers by householders concealing small waste electrical and electronic equipment in bins collected from homes.”

Recyclers in the Middle East have returned to operation but the flow of scrap is less than 20 per cent of the norm.

“All ports are operating normally and exports are continuing to move to countries that can accept material,” the BIR stated.

“Social distancing must continue to be observed while manpower allowed on recycling premises is reduced and strict health & safety controls apply.”

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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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GRI Waste Standard opens for public comment

Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is seeking input from international specialists and advocacy groups to shape its draft Waste Standard.

GRI is an independent international organisation that helps businesses, governments and other organisations understand and communicate their sustainability impacts.

According to GRI Global Sustainability Standards Board Chair Judy Kuszewski, GRI standards are the world’s most widely adopted sustainability reporting framework.

“In the face of a growing global waste crisis, new corporate reporting disclosures are being developed by GRI to help organisations better understand and communicate their waste impacts,” Ms Kuszewski said.

“The new Waste Standard will help companies improve their waste management, with a strong emphasis on the transition to a circular economy.”

The initial draft standard was developed by a multi-stakeholder project working group appointed by the Global Sustainability Standards Board to review, revise and expand the content of waste disclosures, and is an update on GRI 306: Effluents and Waste 2016 .

“The draft GRI Waste Standard recognises that our linear, ‘take-make-waste’ approach is contributing towards a global waste crisis,” Ms Kuszewski said.

“As the world moves to a more circular economy, in which we treat waste as an input material for production, a new approach to reporting is needed.”

Ms Kuszewski said the draft agues for a fundamental shift in the perception of waste, greater emphasis on how decisions on procuring and using materials relate directly to waste generation and new disclosures to understand how discarded waste has been created and the significance of its impact.

“International recognition of the need for action on waste is increasing, and the scale of the issue – from the effect of plastics in marine ecosystems to the mounting disconnect between food waste generation and global hunger – illustrates why businesses and other organisations need to play their part by improving waste management practices,” Ms Kuszewski said.

“The standard will help companies better understand and measure their waste impacts, disclosing reliable and comparable data that ultimately supports better decisions.”

The public comment period is open until 15 July, with contributions welcomed from anyone irrespective of sector, type of business or location.

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Global definition of recyclable developed

The term “recyclable” has received a global definition in relation to plastic packaging and products from two international recycling organisations.

In order for a plastic to be considered recyclable according to the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR) and Plastics Recycling Europe (PRE), it must meet four conditions.

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The product must be made of a plastic that is collected for recycling, has market value and/or is supported by a legislatively mandated program. It also must be sorted and aggregated into defined streams for recycling processed.

It must also be able to be processed and reclaimed or recycled with a commercial recycling process and it must become a raw material that is used in the production of a new product.

Under this definition, innovative materials must demonstrate that they can be collected and sorted in sufficient quantities, must be compatible with the existing industrial recycling processes or will have to be available in sufficient quantities to justify new recycling processes.

In a joint statement from PRE President Ton Emans and CEO of APR Steve Alexander said the onslaught of recent announcements around commitments to package sustainability and recyclability often did not have a defined definition.

“Recently, we have seen many announcements regarding legislative measures on plastics products and pledges of the industry actors committing to making their products recyclable,” Mr Emans said.

“As recyclers, we are a fundamental part of the solution to the issue of sustainability of plastics, and we need for the appropriate audiences to understand what is necessary to label a product or package ‘recyclable’,” he said.

Mr Alexander said the use of the term ‘recyclable’ is consistently used with packages and products without a defined reference point.

“At the end of the day, recyclability goes beyond just being technically recyclable there must be consumer access to a recycling program, a recycler must be able to process the material, and there must be an end market.”

Both groups have said they understand the complexity of a global system and welcome comments from the plastics recycling industry and relevant stakeholders.

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