GUANGZHOU, CHINA — Imports of recycled plastic into China rose 5 to 10 percent last year — suggesting that the worst may be over after the country's “Green Fence” crackdown — but government officials are expected to step up their efforts in the second half of the year.
That's what emerged from a May 18 plastics recycling conference in Guangzhou, ahead of Chinaplas.
Several officials with China's Customs Department and the Ministry of Environmental Protection outlined actions likely to begin later this year, including devoting more enforcement against the practice of companies illegally buying, selling or renting their government licenses to import waste scrap.
“The term to describe this is these were the ‘tigers without teeth' before,” said Steven Wong, executive president of the Beijing-based China Scrap Plastics Association and chairman of Hong Kong-based recycler Fukutomi Co. Ltd. “Now they grow teeth.
“They can actually enforce, they are empowered to prosecute, to work with the police,” he said in an interview on the sidelines of the conference.
Both environment and customs officials presented data showing that imports of waste plastic into China rose last year, after the Green Fence program that was launched suddenly in early 2013 ground imports to a halt for a time as Chinese ports began hyper-scrutiny of imported waste plastics and other materials.
MEP figures showed that imports of scrap plastics rose 9.5 percent to 8.45 million metric tons, while customs figures showed a 4.7 percent jump, to 8.25 million tonnes. Government officials could not explain the difference in the two agencies' statistics.
Ju Hongyan, an official with the MEP's Solid Waste and Chemicals Management Center in Beijing, told the meeting that government officials remain very concerned about pollution from imports of low-quality scrap, which he termed “illegally transferring overseas garbage” and waste.
Both Ju and customs officials said several times in speeches that proper use of licenses and administrative issues would be a key focus now. Ju also suggested it would include efforts to deal with attempts to bribe government officials to get a license.
As well, customs officials told the conference that a new working group between China and the European Union, which started last year, would put more attention on problems with importing waste.
Ju acknowledged in an interview with Plastics News that some of the poor-quality plastics are imported into China by domestic buyers looking to cut their costs, but he defended the overall “Green Fence” as driven by government desires to see better-quality recycled materials to help local industries upgrade.
The Chinese government would like to expand its new cooperation with the EU to other countries that are significant sources of imported plastic, including Japan and the United States, he said.
Wong said the continued “Green Fence” efforts fit in with larger Chinese government attempts to reduce pollution, and he suggested that companies need to adapt.
“As you see now, the environmental problems are an issue that China is working on — air, water and soil,” he said. “A lot of people are working on it. Our theme today is called new normal.”
Wong said the government crackdown has led to more waste plastic being initially cleaned and processed in Southeast Asia before being brought to China.