Shipping containers at port in Hong Kong.

China published a permit list approving imports of 2.8 million metric tons of recovered fiber, its first permit list for 2020. That’s down from 5 million metric tons during the first permit round a year earlier. | hanohiki/Shutterstock

The latest permit figures from the Chinese government illustrate the country’s goals to continue reducing its recycled fiber intake.

The Chinese government issues import permits allowing companies to bring in recycled fiber from the U.S. and elsewhere. In recent years, the permits have been issued less frequently and lower volumes have been approved for import.

In 2017, as the country prepared to enact major restrictions on imports of recycled commodities, the government stopped issuing import licenses altogether. Despite that disruption, overall in 2017, China approved permits for 28.1 million metric tons of recovered fiber.

That weight declined markedly the following year. Although permits were issued more regularly throughout 2018 (about twice a month), the overall weight approved for import dropped to 18.7 million metric tons. That’s about 67% of the volume approved in 2017.

Then, in 2019, permits were issued less frequently and the overall weight approved declined to 10.9 million metric tons – about 59% of the permit volume in 2018 and just 39% of the volume in 2017.

These continually lower volumes have contributed to anticipation that China will end recovered fiber imports altogether in 2021.

New year, new permits

China has begun issuing import permits for 2020.

The Chinese government in late December published a permit list approving 2.8 million metric tons of recovered fiber.

That’s down from the 5 million metric tons issued in the first permit list in 2019, although it’s too early to say whether the difference is significant: This year’s first round of permits is on par with 2018, when the government issued approvals for 2.3 million metric tons during the first permit issuance.

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