China recycling groups: Who's the real Replas?

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GUANGZHOU, CHINA (Sept. 9, 10 p.m. ET) — What’s in a name? In the Chinese plastics recycling industry, apparently, quite a bit.

The Replas conference is one of China’s most well-known dealing with recycled plastic, not a bad position to have in a country that’s the world’s largest import market for many types of recycled polymers.

Its name has become such a prominent brand among recyclers, it seems, that a startup recycling association there has adopted the Replas name for a new series of conferences. That’s drawn the ire of a more established Chinese group that started the Replas events in 2006.

Imagine if a company in North America started a new technical conference and called it Antec, after the well-known SPE event, and you get the idea.

Now, with both Chinese groups planning their own versions of a conference called Replas in early November  — in different cities and on overlapping days — a dispute that had festered behind closed doors has burst into the open.

On one side is the Plastic Recycling Committee of the China Plastic Processing Industry Association, which held the first Replas in 2006 and has grown it into a conference with hundreds of attendees, including government officials, and dozens of exhibiting companies.

On the other is the China Scrap Plastics Association, a new group formed this year and headed by the longtime former senior staffer at PRC-CPPIA, who left that group in late 2011 in a dispute with the group’s leaders.

The two groups have traded sometimes pointed public statements, with PRC-CPPIA suggesting that CSPA, which is registered in Hong Kong, lacks legal standing to operate in mainland China. CPPIA took pains to emphasize that there is no connection between the two Replas events.

CSPA, in turn, said in a Sept. 6 statement that PRC-CPPIA wants to “monopolize the management and administration” of the scrap plastics industry, and accused PRC-CPPIA of spreading rumors about its event.

“The industry needs an organization to lead the development of the industry, and really do some substantial things,” CSPA said, arguing that the CPPIA group had not been doing that, which it called a “serious dereliction of duty.”

“We remind those people who misconduct their powers in PRCCPPIA, they will be cast aside by the industry enterprises, their despicable actions are doomed to be nailed to the history of shame,” CSPA said.

But PRC- CPPIA rejected the critiques, arguing that it’s remained active and worked hard since it was formed in 2005 to build the industry and strengthen ties with government officials.

That’s an important task in an industry very dependent on imported scrap and the regulations surrounding it, the group said.

The head of PRC-CPPIA said the CSPA is using the Replas name to confuse the public.

“That is the whole reason, to confuse people,” said Toland Lam, president of CPPIA’s Plastic Recycling Committee and one of its founders in 2005. “This is our name, they should not use it.”

Lam said using the Replas name undercuts CSPA arguments that his group is not doing a good enough job: “If the association [PRC-CPPIA] did not do a good job, why are they using our name?”

The lines between the groups sometimes blur. An advertisement that CSPA took out in an American recycling magazine to promote its Replas uses the email address, which could suggest a link to the other, CPPIA-backed group.

When questioned about it, CSPA officials said it was a mistake, a holdover from past work, and the email address would not be used in the future.

Amid the rhetoric, one thing is certain: from 2006 to 2011, PRC-CPPIA held six annual Replas conferences and exhibitions in various Chinese cities.

CSPA is headed by Jason Wang, the former vice secretary-general of the PRC-CPPIA. It held its first Replas event in Shanghai in April, calling it the seventh edition, and is calling its upcoming event, slated for Nov. 6-7 in Beijing, the eighth Replas.

In a further bit of confusion, PRC-CPPIA, which holds its event only once a year in the Fall and plans the next one for Nov. 4-6 in Ningbo, Zhejiang province, is calling its event the seventh Replas, picking up count from its last conference.

In a telephone interview from his Beijing office, CSPA’s Wang said PRC-CPPIA does not own the Replas name.

He said the Replas name actually belongs to a consulting company that Wang started in 2004, Beijing GuoJia Jiye Information Co. Ltd., and is now run by a friend, Ms. Cheng Zhi Qiong. Wang described them as “a couple.”

Beijing Guojia, which handled many management tasks for the Replas events, had a contract with the China Plastic Processing Industry Association through 2013. But Wang maintains that when his employment with the association ended, the name Replas reverted to the consulting company.

Wang, who worked for the CPPIA group for six years, suggested he left because of ruffled feathers with some companies. Lam said it was a dispute over how “commercial” to make PRC-CPPIA, with Wang pushing for more frequent events to make money while the leaders worried about the quality of events.

Wang disputed PRC-CPPIA’s statement that CSPA lacks legal standing to operate in mainland China.

Speaking through a translator, he said the group has researched the question extensively: “We cannot find any laws that say a Hong Kong group cannot hold meetings. We have checked a lot.”

He said CSPA is a credible group, with about 50 member companies, and its Shanghai conference attracted 300 people, six government ministries and more than 50 exhibitors.

In another wrinkle, PRC-CPPIA said in a statement that CSPA’s offices were raided by Chinese authorities in March and more than a thousand copies of the CSPA’s “China Scrap Plastics Magazine” were seized because they did not have a publication number issued by mainland Chinese authorities.

Wang disputed that, saying that the Chinese authorities actually seized old copies of a magazine written by Beijing Guojia on behalf of the PRC-CPPIA.

One thing both groups agree on is the scope of the challenges facing the industry.

Wang said CSPA is ready to help the industry deal with challenges from new regulations, in addition to trying to get government to change rules that are outdated. Industry also needs to work to clean up some recycling operations, particularly smaller ones, he said.

Lam said the spring “Replas” event affiliated with CSPA did confuse some companies and government officials who thought it was a CPPIA event.

He maintains, though, that the CPPIA group already has strong ties with government from its years of work.

Lam, who is the owner of recycler T&T Hi-Tech Development Co. Ltd. in Shenzhen, said his seven years as head of recycling committee has been done as an unpaid volunteer, and said the group’s goal is not to make money but to be a forum for industry.

He said the committee’s work does pay off for industry, and as one example, said the group in the last year succeeded in getting government officials to listen to industry concerns about clearance time for scrap plastics getting through ports, he said.

“It means we have an organization that the government already recognizes,” Lam said.