China’s top lawmaking body passed legislation signaling that the country intends to make limitations on importing solid waste from the United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries permanent.
The National People’s Congress Standing Committee voted to revise Chinese waste law on April 29, the country’s official news agency Xinhua reported.
Several articles in the new waste law are relevant for businesses outside the country, according to the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR), a Brussels-based global nonprofit that represents more than 760 companies from the private sector as well as 37 national associations. BIR published the full original text in Chinese.
Translated from the Chinese, Article 24 says, “The state gradually realizes zero imports of solid waste, which shall be organized and implemented by the competent department of ecology and environment of the State Council in conjunction with the competent department of commerce, development and reform, customs of the State Council.”
Other articles set limits on single-use plastic products such as plastic bags, call for new solid waste usage standards, and encourage the implementation of a centralized recycling system for electronics.
Chinese Restrictions Have Global Effects
The crackdown on waste imports, known as National Sword, began in 2017. Since then, China has increased restrictions.
Trade disputes between the United States and China in 2018 led to the Chinese government levying a tariff on materials such as corrugated cardboard, recovered fiber, and certain kinds of plastics. Many curbside recycling programs throughout the United States were scaled back or suspended. In early 2019, an association of California counties asked the governor to establish a statewide commission on recycling markets.
China continues to allow recovered fiber imports for the moment, but with limitations. This year China is only allowing 4.5 million metric tons of recovered fiber into the country through six rounds of import permits, according to Resource Recycling.
For many in the industry, the new law is not a surprise.
“We’ve had lots of time to prepare for this,” Simon Ellin, chief executive of the Recycling Association in the UK, told the British outlet MRW. The trade association represents independent waste and recycling operators. “We now all accept that by the end of the year, import/export of recovered paper into China will cease.”