Washington — China's enforcement of its upcoming Jan. 1 ban on imported scrap plastics and other materials is shaping up to be confusing and chaotic, a large U.S. recycling industry trade group is warning.
The Washington-based Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries said in a Dec. 11 statement that crucial details remain unclear about how President Xi Jinping's directive from earlier this year to ban imports of "foreign waste" will be enforced.
ISRI said its senior leadership just returned from meetings in Beijing, and believes the agencies in charge of bringing Xi's directive into practice "are being told to do so as quickly as possible without the time and resources needed to get it right."
"It is clear that they are not prepared for the implementation of the ban for mixed paper and residential plastics scheduled to start on Jan. 1 as they could not answer questions as to the meaning of the terms," the trade group said.
It noted that China has made improving its environment a major priority, and is targeting many industries, not just recycling. It's previously said it supports that goal.
But it suggested government officials are moving too quickly to develop good rules, especially given the huge volume of global scrap materials the country imports.
ISRI said officials in China's Ministry of Environmental Protection and General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, or AQSIQ, for example, are struggling to distinguish between what is waste and what is legitimate recycled scrap material that can be used again, and is needed, in China's factories.
"In their rush to meet President Xi Jinping's directive to develop rules to prevent foreign waste from entering their country, they have created terms and standards inconsistent with the global trade," ISRI said. "During our meetings it was clear that there is little understanding within the Chinese government of the chaos they have created."
It said the Chinese government is listening to concerns from ISRI and other groups, but they have limited time to take in those comments.
ISRI said there is a working group of officials from foreign embassies in Beijing coordinating strategy and speaking to the Chinese government on the recycling industry's behalf. That includes diplomats from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, European Union, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, it said.
"We briefed this group last week and were very pleased with the concerns expressed by each and their joint commitment to provide support," ISRI said.
It urged companies shipping scrap materials to China to be extremely vigilant in preparing shipments of scrap materials, and be prepared for loads to be rejected. It said it expected more rejected materials.
"The likelihood of individual inspectors at the ports understanding what they are inspecting — and what they are looking for — is very low," ISRI said. "They have not fully prepared for the implementation of the regulations, and we believe even more confusion and inconsistency is yet to come."