China is unprepared to effectively roll out and enforce its planned Jan. 1 ban on imports of certain recyclables, according to recycling leaders who recently traveled to the country in search of answers.
Chinese officials have reiterated that some post-consumer plastics will be banned from import by the end of the month, and have elaborated on stringent future enforcement and regulatory plans. Even so, one exporter sees the potential for washed flake to be allowed in under the new restrictions.
More than three months after China announced it will restrict recyclables imports, key details on logistics and timing of the new regulations remain unknown. But industry associations are piecing together some more concrete facts about the downstream and upstream ramifications of the actions.
A plastic packaging industry publication is criticizing the recycling industry’s shock and concern over China’s import restrictions, which the writer says are part of a measured and well-publicized effort that’s been in effect for more than a decade.
Operators of materials recovery facilities are increasing their labor forces and installing additional sorting equipment in response to Chinese restrictions on scrap imports. As companies increase sortation efforts to create a higher-quality output, attention is also turning to the domestic plastics processing market.
The upstream impacts of China’s import restrictions have been increasingly covered in national and local press, raising the level of public consciousness about where recyclables ultimately end up and how that could all change.
China’s import policy changes are straining recovered plastics export markets, particularly impacting mixed rigids. Recycling companies have been forced to stockpile and even landfill the materials, while numerous municipal programs have stopped accepting mixed plastics.
Chinese authorities have released more specifics about which materials are likely to be affected by a proposed import ban on recovered materials. The action is expected to be implemented at the end of this year.