Beijing is deploying an army of inspectors throughout July to crack down on pollution in the plastics recycling industry, says a top official of the China Scrap Plastics Association.
The 1,700 inspectors, divided into 60 teams, are fanning out across China to any factory holding an import license for waste recycling, said Steven C.K. Wong, executive president of the Beijing-based group, in a statement.
They will also inspect local government offices in charge of supervising those licenses for potential "malfeasance," Wong said.
CSPA, which issued statements July 7 and July 10, links this "intense" round of inspections to an April 18 announcement from a high-level solid waste management task force led by China's President Xi Jinping.
"It is believed that a large number of such factories will not be able to pass the inspection this time as most of them do not achieve... the very strict compliance and control on production pollution," Wong said. "Rather they follow what has become the prevailing industry norm."
CSPA said the inspectors will check on compliance with pollution regulations as well as proper use of the import permits. China has been plagued by reports of illegal disposal of the highly contaminated wastewater generated by recycling operations.
At CSPA's Replas trade show in May in Dongguan, government officials showed pictures of the air at recycling plants thick with internal air pollution. Illicit trading in import permits has been another headache for Beijing.
CSPA said market rumors are that 60 percent of import licenses could be suspended, and there could be penalties for using machines not on a list of permitted equipment.
"It is expected that a number of recycling factories will hardly be able to meet the strict standards and may face the problems of import permit curtailments or even being entirely rescinded," Wong said. "Some factories have to suspend production until the import of plastic scraps has resumed after new import permits are released."
Wong is also chairman of Fukutomi Co. Ltd., a Hong Kong recycler established in 1984.
Wong said if inspectors find shipments of contaminated waste, importers and their overseas suppliers will have 100 percent of their shipments checked by customs officials for 90 days. Additional violations will result in the inspection period being extended for 180 days. Serious offenders may lose their import license from China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, or AQSIQ, Wong said.
By July 14, the teams are expected to have inspected 600 recyclers, with the remainder of the country's recyclers inspected by the end of the month, CSPA said. There are 1,792 licensed importers nationwide, Wong said.
"There is going to be a big earthquake. It's going to change everything," Shan Xia Qiang of Asei Group, which has plants in China and Japan, told Replas attendees.
Even though China is the world's biggest importer of scrap plastics, imports have declined since peaking in 2011.
This month's aggressive moves have been anxiously anticipated by China's recycling industry since February, when Beijing announced the National Sword crackdown.
Those concerns were amplified by April's announcement, which many interpreted as laying the foundation for a broad ban on imported scrap. Wong said it is not entirely clear what will happen.
"Those factories which are allowed to rectify the non-compliance issues and continue operation are fortunate enough but whether to close down by end of year 2018 if a complete import ban really comes is yet to be seen," he said.
"If this round of inspection can be completed within the timeframe of one month, it is considered a good approach as it can at least keep the market impact at a minimum," he said.