BEIJING: The decision was announced in July and came into force on January 1, giving companies from Europe to the United States barely six months to look for other options, and forcing some to store rubbish in parking lots. In China, some recycling companies have had to lay off staff or shut down due to the lost business. The ban bars imports of 24 categories of solid waste, including certain types of plastics, paper and textiles. In 2015 alone, the Asian giant bought 49.6 million tonnes of rubbish, according to the latest government figures. The European Union exports half of its collected and sorted plastics, 85 percent of which goes to China. Ireland alone exported 95 percent of its plastic waste to China in 2016. That same year, the US shipped more than 16 million tonnes of scrap commodities to China worth more than $5.2 billion. Sending recyclables to China is cheaper because they are placed on ships that would “otherwise be empty” when they return to the Asian country after delivering consumer goods in Europe, said Simon Ellin, chief executive of the Britain-based Recycling Association.
Brunet also warned that many alternate countries may not yet be up to the task of filling China’s enormous shoes, since “processing capacity doesn’t develop overnight.” The ban risks causing a “catastrophic” environmental problem as backlogs of recyclable waste are instead incinerated or dumped in landfills with other refuse. In the US, collectors of recyclables are already reporting “significant stockpiles” of materials, said Adina Renee Adler, senior director of international relations at the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries. More than half their plastics were imported, and as prices for such raw materials go up, production will be reduced by at least a third, he said. He had already let go a dozen employees. Others, such as Nantong Heju Plastic Recycling in coastal Jiangsu province, will “no longer do business” at all, a representative said.
But at the same time, the ban could jolt China into improving its own patchy recycling systems, allowing it to reuse more local materials, said Greenpeace plastics expert Liu Hua.
“In China at the moment, there isn’t a complete, legal and regulated recycling system in place,” he said, with even big cities like Beijing reliant on illegal scavengers. When there aren’t resources coming from abroad, there’s a greater likelihood of us improving our own internal recycling.”