HANGZHOU, CHINA ‒ China's Operation Green Fence has had a big impact on the global plastics recycling market. Now, as the program is getting set to expire this month, recyclers are curious about what will come next.
The policy, which went into effect in February, strictly enforces regulations on importing dirty scrap materials into the country.
The topic dominated the China Scrap Plastics Association's biannual China Replas conference in Hangzhou, which was attended by almost 500 plastics recycling representatives from China and around the world.
But no one, not even CSPA executive president Steve Wong, seemed to know the government's next step.
"Nobody knows," he said, speaking to Plastics News outside of the conference hall as customs officials spoke inside. "I believe they won't say anything really clear," he added.
Already, he said, there is a sense in the industry that the government policy is changing.
"The experience in our business, in our industry, is since the last few weeks the situation is more relaxed, he said. "The … tonnage [of recycled plastic imported by China] is already increased since August."
Inside, seats were packed as officials from the Chinese Customs department and the Ministry of Environmental Protection's Solid Waste Center spoke.
But customs anti-smuggling bureau official Tan Jun, who participated in a session where he gave unscripted answers to prepared questions in front of the audience, spoke only vaguely of the future of scrap recycling regulations in China.
"I think we are achieving success step by step," he said. The next step for officials is to "consolidate our achievements. These companies operating illegally will not be forgiven." He added, "We will provide convenience to those companies operating legally."
Operation Green Fence, which is the tightened enforcement of regulations that have been in place for several years now, is now in its third and final phase, called Goddess of the Earth. In this phase, officials are checking product bound for Chinese recyclers at the point of import and the point of origin.
Wong, who is CSPA's executive president and managing director of Fukutomi Co., believes that while the Green Fence Operation will end, the system that the operation put into place will continue.
Li Shu Yuan of the newly established National Center of Solid Waste Management, part of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, described this final phase of Operation Green Fence. The phase lasts from October to December, one month past the end of the Operation Green Fence, and involves cracking down on foreign smugglers of illegal solid waste as well as tightening the management of permit certificates for transferring solid waste.
She said that importing illegal solid waste could result in the suspension of the company's import license for two years. Those companies found to be using other companies import licenses will be fined and possibly penalized.
One Chinese sales executive for a foreign recycling company believes the crackdown will ease over the next few months. He said the government controls follow a pattern, easing at times and tightening at others.
"If you control everything always, then everybody cannot do business, so customs will give us a break after several months," he said.
"The policies are written by the top, not by customs. They just follow the policy. They don't want us to die," he added.