Toland Lam wants to see China's plastic recycling industry clean itself up. Lam, who is chairman of the Plastics Recycling Committee of the China Plastics Processing Industry Association, used a recent speech at an industry conference to challenge his fellow recyclers to make a public commitment to adopting better environmental practices. Without it, they risk more difficulties with the government and problems attracting investment, he said.
Lam, who owns plastic recycling and wood-plastic composite factories in China under his Texas-based T&T Group Inc., urged the industry to sign on to a ``Self-Discipline Manifesto.'' It calls for, among other things, a commitment to not discharging polluted waste water, strengthening protections for workers and following environmentally friendly procedures in areas like coating removal and plating.
In many countries, recycling is seen as a clean industry. But in China, Lam said, recycling attracts a lot of media criticism and is sometimes synonymous with foreign garbage. It doesn't take much money to get into the recycling business, so Tam and other officials say the industry has too many operations without adequate pollution controls. Some local governments have stepped in with crackdowns on plastics recyclers.
It has implications for other countries too. Much of the world's plastic waste is headed to China, and if recycling your plastic in America or Europe means there's a chance it could ultimately wind up polluting a Chinese village or river, that's troubling.
Plastic recycling in China is not a small business: Lam said there might be 10 million people employed in recycling waste plastics there. By comparison, there are 14 million employees in the entire U.S. manufacturing industry.
Lam believes the industry is making progress.
Organizers of the event where Lam gave his speech, the China Replas 2007 conference, held in Guangzhou in early November, said Chinese policy makers and industry are starting to talk. Government leaders are touring recycling factories and several came to the Replas conference, which Lam's committee helped organize.
Officials from the Chinese National Development and Reform Commission and the State Environmental Protection Administration attended, with SEPA saying it wanted to get tough on illegal recyclers and also support the legal ones.
In an interview after his speech, Lam outlined several things government could do, such as loans to small recyclers and cutting import duties on scrap.
He believes that creating a more stable environment for recyclers will make it easier for the industry to attract investment, something that's tough to do if you're under threat of more government crackdowns. The bottom line, he said, is to change the perception of the industry from one in the rubbish business to one in the recycling business.
Steve Toloken is a Plastics News correspondent based in Guangzhou, China.