Maersk shipping container on a ship at sea.

Shipping giant Maersk announced as of Sept. 1, 2020 it will no longer take scrap material shipments to China. | Mariusz Bugno/Shutterstock

Citing China’s upcoming legislation that will ban all “solid waste” imports, APM-Maersk this month announced it will stop shipping virtually all recovered materials to China and Hong Kong in the coming weeks.

Maersk on July 20 told customers it would stop shipping recovered paper, plastics and other scrap materials to China and Hong Kong. The company said the policy is being implemented “to fully comply with government requirements of the People’s Republic of China about zero solid waste import as of 2021,” according to the announcement.

The change will apply for all shipments departing after Sept. 1.

Maersk is the third shipping company to announce it will no longer carry recovered paper and other materials to China in the coming months, and it is the largest yet to make that decision. According to shipping data firm Alphaliner, Maersk is the largest container shipment company, holding 16.7% of the global market.

Mediterranean Shipping Co. (MSC) and Hapag-Lloyd, the second- and fifth-largest shipping companies, recently announced policy changes ending scrap service to China.

The three companies have used very similar language in their announcements. However, one key distinction between their policies is whether Hong Kong is covered. Maersk and MSC will not take material to Hong Kong in addition to the Chinese mainland, while Hapag-Lloyd did not include Hong Kong in its policy.

Although recycled plastic exports to China have essentially ceased after the country’s 2018 ban on importing the material, Hong Kong has continued to receive a significant volume of U.S. scrap plastic. From January through May of this year, Hong Kong imported 42.8 million pounds of U.S. scrap plastic, about 8.4% of all U.S. scrap plastic exports.

Meanwhile, mainland China’s disappearance from the recovered fiber export market will leave a substantial volume of U.S. material looking for a new outlet. During the first five months of 2020, China imported 1.94 million short tons of recovered fiber, about 31.4% of all U.S. recovered fiber exports.

Even as the shipping companies take steps to come in line with China’s all-out “solid waste” import ban, the Chinese government continues to issue recovered fiber import permits this year. Most recently, on July 24, China published permits approving 62,400 short tons of recovered paper for import.

So far this year, China has approved permits for 6.3 million short tons of recovered fiber to be imported. Last year, the country permitted 12.1 million short tons of recovered fiber for import.

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