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 Materials, Public Policy, Suppliers, Sustainability, Recycling

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

Image

Bayer spinning off plastics business

September 18, 2014 8:49 am ET

Bayer AG will spin off its MaterialScience plastics group into a separate, publicly-traded company within the next 12 to 18 months.    More

Image

P&G removing PE microbeads from its Crest brand toothpaste

September 18, 2014 1:57 pm ET

After months of prodding, Procter & Gamble Co., the makers of Crest brand toothpastes, say polyethlene microbeads will be completely removed from its ...    More

Image

PET to PET boosts recycling capacity

September 18, 2014 11:14 am ET

PET to PET Recycling Austria GmbH, a bottle-to-bottle PET recycling operation backed by Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling and several beverage...    More

Image

Minnesota receives grant to help develop new bioplastics

September 17, 2014 4:08 pm ET

The University of Minnesota has received a $20 million grant to fund the development of new types of bioplastics.    More

Image

China's Polymax Elastomer launches U.S. production in Illinois

September 17, 2014 3:35 pm ET

Chinese materials maker Polymax Elastomer Technology Co. Ltd. has opened a North American production site and headquarters in Waukegan, Ill.    More

Market Reports

Plastics Caps & Closures Market Report

The annual recap of top trends and future outlook for the plastics caps & closures market features interviews with industry thought leaders and Bill Wood’s economic forecast of trends in growing end markets. You will also gain insight on trends in caps design, materials, machinery, molds & tooling and reviews of mergers & acquisitions.

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

Thermoformed Packaging 2014 Market Review & Outlook – North America

This in-depth report analyzes economic and market trends, legislative/regulatory activity impacting supply and demand, business opportunities and threats, materials pricing, manufacturing technology, as well as growth strategies being implemented by thermoformed packaging companies.

Learn more

Upcoming Plastics News Events

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

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

More Events