SHANGHAI — Last year's Green Fence action by the Chinese government is having a lasting impact on the global plastics recycling industry, said many of the attendees and speakers at this year's spring China Replas conference in Shanghai, organized by China Scrap Plastics Association.
The impact is hard to quantify exactly, but anecdotes from industry attendees and statistics from customs officials show that the yearlong crackdown has changed the industry. While customs reported only an 11 percent decrease in total recycled plastic imports, the action may have had a greater impact on industry practices.
A representative for a German trading company said that while she hasn't felt the affect of the regulations, her mainland clients have.
“It's because they don't have the AQSIQ environmental protection certificate and need to borrow it.”
One attendee working for a company in Malaysia said: “The government has a direct influence on business. The impact has already been felt. My costs went up because of Green Fence. They won't go back down.”
And a Slovenian recycling trader said that his business used to be 90 percent export to China and after Green Fence, it is about 10 percent.
According to the statistics given by customs officials, China imported 7.8 million tons of scrap plastic last year, although they reported a bounce in early 2014 of 6,000 tons. Usually more than 60 percent recycled plastics make up less than 50 percent of total plastics imports.
“Actually there were not very special initiatives,” admitted Zhou Yachun of the China Department of Customs Control and Inspection of General Administration of Customs (GAC). “We opened [more] containers to check. We made more effort to check. It turned out to be very effective.”
The customs officials reported that there were 211 smuggling cases last year, although they did not name names or provide much more information. They did say that smuggling of approvals, or companies using other companies' approvals, is a problem predominant among the scrap plastic industry.
CSPA Executive President Steve Wong's presentation on industry impact showed that a market restructuring is in the making, as imports from Europe and the U.S. drop, while imports from Southeast Asian countries show an increase or minimal drop. He also noted that the tightened restrictions have led to an increase in automation in the plastic recycling industry. The European and American recycling industries are becoming more competitive, he said, as suppliers begin pelletizing themselves.
Among attendees, the atmosphere felt slightly different from last fall's conference.
Whereas last year, there appeared to be anxiety and anticipation about what the end of the Green Fence action would bring, this time the feeling was one of subdued recognition that there will be no such “post-Green Fence era” as was previously speculated on. Rather, as CSPA Vice Chairman Jason Wang noted in a Q&A session with customs officials, the tightened Green Fence restrictions appear not to be loosening, but to be continuing. It seems, he said, that “post-Green Fence is the same as Green Fence.”