China told the World Trade Organization July 18 that it will ban imports of scrap plastics and other “foreign garbage” by the end of the year, officially taking a step that had been widely rumored in the industry.
The move drew quick criticism from a recycling industry trade group in the United States, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, which said it would be “devastating” to the global recycling industry and cost thousands of U.S. jobs.
ISRI said the ban would include most scrap plastics, including PET, PVC, polyethylene and polystyrene, as well as mixed papers and slag.
China's government said it was taking the action to protect public health and the environment.
“We found that large amounts of dirty wastes or even hazardous wastes are mixed in the solid waste that can be used as raw materials,” China's Ministry of Environmental Protection said in a notification to WTO. “This polluted the environment seriously.”
“To protect China's environmental interests and people's health, we urgently adjust the imported solid waste list, and forbid the import of solid wastes that are highly polluted,” it said.
Washington-based ISRI said the move could cause severe economic harm in the United States.
“If implemented, a ban on scrap imports will result in the loss of tens of thousands of jobs and closure of many recycling businesses throughout the United States,” ISRI President Robin Weiner said in a statement.
ISRI immediately relayed its concerns to the U.S. Trade Representative and the U.S. Department of Commerce, and briefed U.S. officials ahead of the July 19 U.S.-China Comprehensive Economic Dialogue in Washington.
The association said one-third of the scrap recycled in the United States is exported, with China being the largest market. That includes 1.42 million tons (3.1 billion pounds) of scrap plastics, worth an estimated $495 million, out of $5.6 billion in scrap commodities exported from the United States to China last year, it said.
“Recycled materials are key inputs into the production of new, usable commodities for the use in value-add production,” ISRI said. “The trade in specification-grade commodities — metals, paper and plastics — between the United States and China is of critical importance to the health and success of the U.S. based recycling industry.”
The step had been rumored. ISRI leaders said at a mid-June news conference, after returning from a trip to China, that there were serious rumors of a ban on scrap imports, starting with plastics. That echoed earlier comments from Chinese plastics industry officials.
In a related development, a Chinese plastics recycling group said that a month-long crackdown on plastics recyclers that began July 1 had resulted in inspecting 888 factories by July 14. That's about half of the 1,792 factories licensed to import waste plastics.
The China Scrap Plastics Association said in its July 17 announcement that Chinese media were reporting that 590 of those factories were found to have rule violations, with 349 put under investigation for those violations.
It said with 383 factories had their production suspended and 53 were closed, and that factories with violations could have their import permits suspended for one year.
China's WTO filing said the import ban on plastics would apply to products with HS codes 3915100000, 3915200000, 3915300000, 3915901000 and 3915909000.