For years, China has shown an insatiable appetite for waste plastic imports. With low-cost labor sorting and lax regulatory controls, the recycling business thrived.
But the government has been taking actions to rein in the industry, first by imposing policies last year to tighten up the control of import and trade of scrap materials, and now by enacting a new regulation that bans improper recycling practices that may pollute the environment.
According to the announcement — jointly made by the country's Ministry of Environmental Protection, the National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Commerce — the new rules will take effect Oct. 1 and ban irresponsible handling of scrap materials, including:
* Recycling activities in residential areas.
* Using recycled plastic to make ultrathin bags (shopping bags less than 0.025 millimeter thick and other bags less than 0.015mm in thickness) that have been banned since 2007.
* Using recycled plastic to make food-contact bags.
* Handling of hazardous waste (with chemical residues, pesticide or disposable medical packaging) without a special operating license.
* Processing activities without sufficient water-treatment facilities, such as granulation of woven bags, washing of plated scrap, stripping of plating or coating.
* Improper handling of waste from the recycling process.
* Outdoor incineration of plastic scrap and waste from the recycling process.
The new regulation applies to the recycling of plastic scrap collected within China as well as imports. Specifically for imported waste, the industry is ordered to comply with all related policies and is prohibited from these activities:
* Importing unwashed, post-consumer scrap.
* Transferring imported waste to a company other than what is allowed by the import license, including sending the materials to vendors for washing services.
* Selling unwashed leftover plastic materials after sorting and processing imported plastic scrap.
* Selling unwashed leftover plastic materials after sorting and processing imported scrap paper.
The policy asks recycling companies to report to government agencies plastic waste that is banned or violates environmental protection rules. It also encourages regions with concentrated plastic scrap distribution and processing businesses to establish treatment facilities for post-recycling wastewater, gas emissions and solid waste.
The central government asks provincial-level environmental protection and commerce administration agencies to inspect local recyclers and publish a list of qualified recyclers as well as companies that fail the inspection.
Starting Jan. 1, only companies that have passed the inspection will be allowed to import waste plastics.