In early November, an official with China's State Environmental Protection Administration said that new regulations on importing and reprocessing plastics waste would become effective in January. But since then, the agency has been silent on the subject, with the new measures up in the air.
National industry groups - particularly the China Resources Recycling Association and the China Plastics Processing Industry Association, both based in Beijing - gave the central government a nudge recently on the matter, by submitting a report suggesting the government loosen inspection standards on waste imports and expand their scope to include plastics waste such as whole soft drink bottles and nylon fishing nets.
The document highlighted the increasing competition for plastics waste globally. With China in the spotlight as the world's major importer of recycled plastics, foreign suppliers are scrutinizing their Chinese customers' environmental protection measures, the report said. Moreover, higher oil prices and a weakening U.S. dollar have prompted more local recycling initiatives in the West, and the tendency of Western countries to reduce recycled plastics exports has an impact on Chinese recyclers.
China imported 15.1 billion pounds of plastics waste in 2006, according to the associations' report.
More imported waste won't affect the local collection of plastics in China, the report stressed, as both are in great demand and undersupplied. Yet imports win out with higher quality and better prices, it said, and the flow of recycled plastics helps to mitigate trade imbalances between China and some countries.
The report also called on the Chinese government to allow companies that sort and granulate waste to import it directly. It suggested that midsize and large companies be able to concentrate on rough processing such as sorting, cleaning and granulating, and sell to downstream markets.
Given that waste paper, lumber, copper and steel imports are tax-free, the industry trade groups also called for more favorable taxation treatment. They proposed changing taxation from a value-based model to a weight-based one, using a rate of about $400 per metric ton.
The report said recyclers are becoming more aware of environmental protection issues. In the first half of 2007, 336 companies in Guangdong province were granted licenses to import plastics waste: more than half were industry veterans that have improved practices and met the standards; 42 percent were first-time applicants.
The association's report was addressed to SEPA, as well as to the National Development and Reform Commission, Ministry of Commerce, China Customs, and the Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine. It also was sent to the China National Light Industry Council and the Guangdong branch of SEPA. A trade group official supplied a copy of the report to Plastics News.