MSC cargo ship at port.

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

A major shipping line will no longer accept recovered fiber and other scrap material exports bound for China, in anticipation of the country completely closing the door to those commodities.

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

The notice, reviewed by Resource Recycling, references China’s goal to eliminate “solid waste” imports into law. The MSC notice indicates the company will not take shipments of scrap material to Hong Kong, either.

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

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.

Even after its 2018 ban on mixed paper and additional quality requirements for imported recyclables, China remains a major market for U.S. recovered fiber. From January through April of this year, the most recent period for which trade figures are available, the country imported 1.6 million short tons of recovered fiber, about 31% of all U.S. fiber exports.

MSC is the world’s second-largest shipping line, according to shipping research firm JOC. Multiple brokers told Resource Recycling the shipping company has been steadily reducing its recovered fiber 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

The shipping giant’s move is the latest evidence suggesting an all-out end of recycled material exports to China in the near future. Industry stakeholders have charted multiple significant signs pointing to the country phasing out imports altogether in the next year.

Most recently, 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.”

The MSC notice 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.

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