Waste plastic imports drop as China gets tough with recyclers

By Steve Toloken
Staff Reporter / Asia Bureau Chief

Published: November 13, 2012 6:00 am ET

Related to this story

Topics Sustainability, Public Policy, Materials, Recycling, Suppliers

BEIJING (Nov. 13, 1:30 p.m. ET) — Plastics recycler Shenzhen New Rainbow Recycled Materials Technology Co. Ltd. has seen its imports of waste HDPE bottles drop at least 20 percent this year as China’s government has cracked down on bringing waste plastic into the country.

New Rainbow is not alone. Hong Kong-based Lung Shing International Group Ltd. has had imports of recycled plastic drop by one-third through the port of Guangzhou, but Alex Xie, general manager of its Guangzhou factory said Lung Shing considers itself lucky because that’s well below the 50 percent overall drop in that port.

“Costs have increased a lot,” said Xie. “It takes more time to clear customs.”

Governments throughout China have been getting tougher with the country’s plastics recyclers, as they try to cut back on what they say is pollution from an industry that sometimes operates without proper waste water treatment and other environmental controls.

It was topic No. 1 for speakers and attendees at the ChinaReplas 2012 conference and trade show, held Nov. 6-7 in Beijing, as industry representatives gathered to hear government officials discuss their latest plans, which include stricter rules on importing scrap plastic and closing unlicensed companies.

Guan Aiguo, chairman & CEO of China Recycling Development Co. Ltd. and president of the China Resource Recycling Association, said the industry will undergo dramatic restructuring in the next three to five years as costs rise and government regulations cut down on pollution.

In a speech to the conference, he said “99 percent” of China’s scrap plastics companies do not have equipment to properly clean the water they use in their factories.

“They do not process or clean the water,” said Guan, whose beijing-based company owns plastics recycling factories and invests in industrial parks for recyclers. “They emit it directly. It is a very serious problem.”

Many of the recycling plants are operated by farmers, using simple technology, and are not safe places to work, he said.

Guan said he finds it difficult to visit such factories for more than 10 minutes because of their environmental conditions, but people spend hours a day in them and become ill after years of work: “They sacrifice their health for money.”

Guan said China Recycling Development is opening industrial parks for recyclers, with water treatment and other environmental facilities and 24-hour fire protection brigades.

Such parks are also part of the Chinese government’s strategy.

Wu Gen Ping, an official from China’s General Administration of Customs, said instituting such parks in Guangdong is part of the reason imports went down there.

Those zones have achieved “obvious results” in better waste management, he said, and he encouraged companies to look at them.

He also said the customs inspectors and China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection are working closely together.

For example, Wu said the Guangzhou customs office in the middle of the year gave environmental regulators a list of local companies importing waste without proper licenses, and environmental officials shut those factories down.

Guangzhou and other ports in Guangdong province began a pilot program last year that has customs officials much more closely scrutinizing imports of waste plastic, and government officials plan to expand it to other parts of the country, Wu said.

It’s had a big impact in Guangdong, home to more than half of China’s plastics recycling companies. According to customs figures, through the first half of the year, recycled plastic imports through Guangzhou’s port dropped 52 percent and through Shenzhen, 13 percent.

But it’s not clear if taking the program across China will cut imports in other places in the same way.

Jason Wang, secretary general of the Beijing-based China Scrap Plastics Association, said ports in Guangdong Province have historically been much looser than other parts of China, so the rules are bringing Guangdong more in line with the rest of the country.

He said he does not expect a dramatic impact when the program is broadened, a point echoed by other recycling companies at the event, which was sponsored by CSPA.

Customs figures showed that imports through other ports actually increased in the first six months.

Shanghai was up 40 percent to become the largest single port for waste plastic imports, and Tianjin up 53 percent, becoming number four. Shenzhen and Guangzhou were still the second and third biggest ports, respectively, even with their sizable drops.

Among Chinese companies at the event, some saw opportunities in the tightening.

The new rules do make it tougher for companies but better environmental protection will in the long-run help industry, said Xue Bao Shan, president of Shanghai Changling Import and Export Trading Co. Ltd., which has two factories in Shanghai.

The company buys plastics from Japan and Korea and reprocesses it for sale in the domestic market. Xue said that only higher-quality companies will survive, and middle-sized firms like his need to seize opportunities to expand.

It was a point echoed by Amy Wen, sales manager with Qingzhou Hua Lu and Renewable Resources Co. Ltd. in Qingzhou, Shandong province.

Her company has invested in a new HDPE flake line and is looking at a PET flake line, because it sees government closing factories with serious environmental problems and being stricter about imports. It needs to invest and upgrade, she said.

Guan said in his speech that he used to believe that China did not need technology to recycle plastics, but he said seeing companies in other countries has convinced him that investing in better equipment is crucial to reducing pollution.

“If we don’t use technology, we can’t achieve this,” he said.


Comments

Waste plastic imports drop as China gets tough with recyclers

By Steve Toloken
Staff Reporter / Asia Bureau Chief

Published: November 13, 2012 6:00 am ET

Post Your Comments


Back to story


More stories

PE suppliers go after oxo-biodegradable technology in Mexico

July 31, 2014 1:12 pm ET

Mexican industry defends itself, calling claims 'misleading'    More

Bioplastic created using rice starch

July 31, 2014 10:40 am ET

The new transparent, biodegradable material has a high degree of mechanical strength and good thermal resistance.    More

Image

UMass Lowell hosts collaborative research meeting for future projects

July 30, 2014 11:54 am ET

The University of Massachusetts at Lowell recently hosted a seminar, which was billed as a collaborative research meeting between Dow Chemical Co.,...    More

Image

North American robot sales set record

July 30, 2014 4:46 pm ET

The North American robotics sector is off to its fastest start ever, shattering last year's first-half record, with a first-half 2014 of 14,135...    More

Image

DC banning PS foam containers

July 30, 2014 2:34 pm ET

Washington D.C. Mayor Vincent Gra signed into law on July 29 a bill that will ban polystyrene foam food and drink containers from the District.    More

Market Reports

Pipe, Profile & Tubing Extrusion in North America 2014

U.S. demand for extruded plastics is expected to grow by 3 percent in 2014, with PVC remaining the largest segment.

Plastic pipe will post the strongest gains through 2018, continuing to take market share from competing materials in a range of markets.

Our latest market report provides in-depth analysis of current trends and their financial impact on the pipe, profile and tubing extrusion industry in North America.

Learn more

2014 Injection Molding Industry Report

GROWTH, OPPORTUNITY IN SIGHT FOR INJECTION MOLDERS IN 2014

In the wake of the economic turbulence earlier in this decade, molders today find themselves in much better shape. Molders are gaining a competitive advantage by investing in people, equipment and seeking inroads into new markets on a global scale.

Growth in the injection molding industry is going to be driven by low financing costs and a continued move to reshore some business.

Learn more

Shale Gas Market - Analysis of North American Region

This report highlights the impact of shale-based natural gas on the North American plastics market and features an in-depth analysis of production trends in the United States during 2013 and a forecast for 2014 and beyond.

Learn more

Upcoming Plastics News Events

September 10, 2014 - September 12, 2014Plastics Caps & Closures 2014

January 14, 2015 - January 14, 2015Plastics in Automotive

February 4, 2015 - February 6, 2015Plastics News Executive Forum 2015

More Events