MSC cargo ship at port.

Shipping company MSC stopped accepting scrap cargo headed to China and Hong Kong as of June 1. | Fomin Roman/Shutterstock

A major shipping line will no longer accept recovered plastic and other scrap material shipments bound for Hong Kong, which remains a large market for U.S. e-plastic.

Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) this month stopped accepting shipments of recovered plastics, fiber, metals and chemicals headed for China and Hong Kong. The company issued a notice to customers outlining the change, which took effect June 1.

The notice, reviewed by E-Scrap News, references China’s goal to eliminate “solid waste” imports.

A company spokesperson confirmed MSC’s policy and said the company is “complying with recently updated Chinese legislation” related to solid waste cargo.

China banned most categories of scrap plastic imports beginning in 2018, and U.S. exports to the country have dwindled to a negligible amount. But Hong Kong remains a significant outlet for U.S. plastic: From January through April of this year, the most recent period for which figures are available, the U.S. exported 31.7 million pounds of scrap plastic to Hong Kong, about 8% of all U.S. plastic exports during that period.

Exporters last fall said the most robust markets for U.S. e-plastics are centered around Hong Kong and other areas in Asia, similar to export markets for other scrap plastic grades.

The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) alerted its members to the decision, explaining that the organization is “very concerned about the precedence MSC’s decision sets for scrap shipments in the future – not just to China but globally.” To ISRI’s knowledge, no other shipping line has yet issued a similar policy in response to China’s policy evolution.

MSC is the world’s second-largest shipping line, according to shipping research firm JOC. Multiple brokers told E-Scrap News the shipping company has been steadily reducing its recovered paper bookings to China even before the recent announcement, and they noted the company is not as big of a player in the recycling sector as it was a couple years ago.

Chinese law drives policy shift

MSC’s move follows recent rulemaking within China. The Chinese government on April 29 revised a law covering domestic waste management and stated the country will be “gradually realizing zero import of solid waste.”

It’s unclear exactly how China’s law will impact Hong Kong, which has been a semi-autonomous region of the country. Their relationship has been shifting rapidly, with China recently moving to impose national security laws on Hong Kong and the U.S. declaring Hong Kong no longer has a high degree of autonomy from China.

Whether the Chinese solid waste law ultimately applies to Hong Kong or not, the MSC notice indicates the company will not carry scrap loads to that region.

MSC said China’s legislative change is “applicable to all solid waste goods such as wastepaper, waste plastics, waste metals, waste chemicals, among others.”

The notice also quoted Chinese government information stating that cargo carriers will be jointly liable with importers for violations of the import ban, a change from previous enforcement practices.

In ISRI’s alert on the change, the trade association said MSC is “taking a strict interpretation that it would be 100% liable for the return of material, and thus has decided to cancel all shipments effective immediately.”

MSC stopped accepting scrap cargo on June 1 in order to be compliant with the Chinese laws by Sept. 1, according to the notice.

A version of this story appeared in Plastics Recycling Update on June 10.

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