Due to a combination of longtime flouting of contamination levels in paper bales being sold and shipped to Chinese consumers and internal economic and political pressures in the country, those same bales are increasingly being rejected by Chinese customs inspectors.

According to some industry insiders, the rejection of paper bales began around six months ago, with some shipping containers filled with mixed paper bales coming out of Rotterdam being rejected by China Inspection & Quarantine Services (CIQ) officials due to contamination levels.

Official CIQ specifications allows for only 0.5 percent of prohibitives (waste materials, typically glass) in mixed paper bales received at Chinese ports. Traditionally, CIQ has allowed contamination levels higher than 2 percent, with some able to exceed that figure by “dressing” bales. That is, to dupe CIQ inspectors with clean-looking materials on the outside of bales.

There have also been reports that several large paper exporters have received warning letters from CIQ saying that their licenses could be suspended if continuing to ship materials that were not of acceptable quality.

All of this cracking down on paper importers may not entirely be about cleaning up the fiber stream coming into the country, however. According to several sources, because of the upcoming 12th National People’s Congress — the selection of a new legislature for the Communist country — there is increased tensions for those in power to not make any mistakes. “Letting in contaminated mixed paper would be considered a ‘mistake,'” says one source, “and, to be safe, one is to err on the side of caution.”

“No Chinese official is going to take any chance allowing ‘business as usual’ if it might blow up in their face and become the next big scandal,” agrees another industry insider.

Because of this internal political pressure, several large MRF operators cannot find buyers for standard mixed paper bales.

“There are reports on the street that Chinese mills are running at about 50 percent of capacity,” said one paper expert. “And that could speak to a lesser need for recovered paper right now.”