The move by the world’s largest recyclable materials importer will leave other nations searching for alternative waste-management solutions
The dominant position that China holds in global manufacturing means that for many years China has also been the largest global importer of many types of recyclable materials. Last year, Chinese manufacturers imported 7.3 million metric tonnes of waste plastics from developed countries including the UK, the EU, the US and Japan.
However, in July China announced big changes in the quality control placed on imported materials, notifying the World Trade Organisation that it will ban imports of 24 categories of recyclables and solid waste by the end of the year. This campaign against yang laji, or “foreign garbage”, applies to plastic, textiles and mixed paper. It will result in China taking a lot less material as it replaces imported materials with recycled material collected in its own domestic market, from its growing middle-class and Western-influenced consumers.
The impact of this will be far-reaching. China is the dominant market for recycled plastic. There are concerns that much of the waste that the country currently imports, especially the lower grade materials, will have nowhere else to go.
This applies equally to other countries including the EU27, where 87 per cent of the recycled plastic collected was exported directly, or indirectly (via Hong Kong), to China. Japan and the US also rely on China to buy their recycled plastic. Last year, the US exported 1.42 million tons of scrap plastics, worth an estimated $495m (£373m) to China.