China's plastics recycling industry needs to build closer ties with government and implement its own quality and management systems to develop in a healthy way, said the head of the country's top plastics recycling trade group.
Having industrywide quality and management systems, including possible certification for importing waste plastics, would help China's recyclers improve their environmental performance and image, said Toland Lam, head of the plastics recycling committee of the China Plastic Processing Industry Association.
China's government also needs to better recognize the environmental contributions of plastics recycling, such as the impact it has on reducing greenhouse gases and oil consumption, Lam said in an April 10 speech at the China Scrap 2010 conference in Guangzhou.
The country's recycling industry has attracted government attention in recent years regarding concerns that China is importing potentially dangerous wastes, and that recycling operations with poor standards can pollute surrounding communities.
As well, some recycling groups in other countries have pushed for limits on plastic scrap exports to China, citing economic issues in their home countries as well as environmental and safety conditions in Chinese recycling factories. Brussels-based trade group European Plastics Recyclers, for example, advocated those points in an August 2009 position statement.
Lam said the Chinese industry should look at developing its own standards, as U.S. recyclers have with their Recycling Industry Operating Standards put forward by the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc., a Washington-based trade association.
First, he said, the Chinese industry should develop consensus in areas such as classification, sorting and safety. Then it should work with major government agencies that regulate plastics recycling to have them recognize those standards.
There are multiple government bodies that regulate plastics recycling, which complicates the legal environment, Lam said. He encouraged government leaders to support the industry's technological development, saying the industry should be better recognized for its contributions to sustainable development.
He said the 7 million tons of waste plastics imported to China in 2008 saved an amount of oil equivalent to the country's sixth largest oil field; an equivalent reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions from plastics recycling would generate about $231 million a year on carbon trading markets. Industry groups should negotiate with government to monetize that and use the money to help China's recycling industry modernize, Lam said.
He also urged China's industry and government to strengthen communication, and said government regulators should use the plastics association to a greater extent to outline planned changes in regulations.
For example, he said 20,000 containers of imported scrap materials became stockpiled in Hong Kong ports in July and August of 2009 because there was uncertainty about how to implement new regulations on classifying materials. That cost companies substantial amounts of money, he said.
As well, he said the Chinese government plans to launch new rules June 1 on how imported scrap materials must be packaged, and that has prompted many questions. The changes could have a significant impact on scrap imports.
At the conference, government officials took questions from the audience and clarified some of the packaging rules. They repeated previous statements on the importance of stopping companies from using recyclers to fraudulently import other materials in effect, labeling more expensive materials as recyclable to lower the import tariffs.
An official with China's Customs Bureau said such trafficking has been increasing in recent years. The new June 1 rules also will affect shipments of mixed materials. In the works is another rule requiring imported waste to come through the port closest to its processing plants, the official said.
Despite the weak economy, plastics imported for recycling in China held steady over the previous year. Government figures presented at the conference show that China imported about 7.2 million tons of plastics for recycling in 2009, compared with about 7 million tons in 2008.
Copyright 2010 Crain Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved.