Cargo ship docked at a shipping terminal.

From January through May 2020, China imported 1.9 million short tons of recovered fiber from the U.S.. | Avigator Fortuner/Shutterstock

The Chinese government continues to indicate it will eliminate “solid waste” imports, restating the plan during a recent press conference. At the same time, the country has approved additional shipments of recovered paper.

China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment on June 30 held a press conference during which an agency spokesperson was asked about the pending import restrictions.

Youbin Liu, the spokesperson, referenced China’s significant decrease in “solid waste” imports since 2017, according to an online translation of the press conference. In 2017, the country banned the import of mixed paper and scrap plastics. Liu said the country will continue on that trajectory. The environment ministry will reduce the amount of “solid waste” imports in the coming months and come close to zero imports of materials under that category by the end of the year, Liu said.

The latest indication follows several previous public statements along the same lines.

The Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) issued a release on July 7 announcing that, according to the organization’s contacts in China, the environment agency “has confirmed that China will be banning the import of solid waste as from 2021 and therefore will no longer accept and approve applications for solid waste.”

The BIR announcement cited the press conference and noted that the all-out ban would be “in line with the policies applied since 2017 to reduce the import of foreigh waste.”

Still, the use of the term “solid waste” leaves uncertainty around which materials will remain shut out from China completely.

During the press conference, the environmental agency was asked about a process of issuing quality standards for certain grades of recycled metals. This process has been tracked by the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, which previously wrote that China’s development of these standards represents “a major indication that the Chinese government finally acknowledges that scrap commodities are valuable products and imports, and should not be managed under the same guidelines for ‘solid waste.'”

Additional questions swirl around fiber.

So far, China has developed quality standards only for imports of recycled aluminum, brass and copper, suggesting that recovered paper may be considered “solid waste” by the Chinese government definition.

China remains a large market for U.S. recovered fiber. From January through May 2020, the country imported 1.9 million short tons of recovered fiber from the U.S. That made up about 31% of all U.S. recovered fiber exports during that period.

Despite reiterating the impending ban, the Chinese government on July 6 also approved another round of recovered paper import permits for this year. The permits cover about 1.2 million short tons of recovered fiber and they are the first recovered paper import permits issued since mid-May.

Overall, China has issued import permits for about 6.3 million short tons of recovered fiber in 2020. During the same period in 2019, China had issued permits for about 11 million short tons of recovered fiber.

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