China ‘Solid Waste Law’ changes from September

Yet more confirmation that China will be banning the import of “solid waste” – which includes waste paper and scrap metal – has emerged.

Today (7 July) the Brussels-based Bureau of International Recycling commented that via its contacts in China, the country’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment has confirmed China “will be banning the import of solid waste as from 2021 and therefore will no longer accept and approve import applications for solid waste”.

China is implementing amendments to its waste legislation this year (picture: Shutterstock)

The information, given on 30 June, is in line with the policies applied since 2017 to reduce the import of foreign waste, said BIR.

The organisation noted that a newly revised “Law on the Prevention and Control of Environmental Pollution by Solid Wastes” has been announced and come into force on September 1, clarifying the legal requirements for the identification of attributes of imported goods suspected of solid wastes.

China has been an important destination for recovered paper and some metals and in the past, plastics. Now exports are reducing with the paper sector in particular growing stronger in south east Asian states.


Last month the Chinese government reaffirmed a commitment to achieving its avowed goal of halting all imports of solid waste by the end of 2020, as part of broader anti-pollution efforts.

The country imported 2.49 million metric tons of solid waste in the first four months of the year, down by a massive 47.3% from one year earlier, Liu Youbin, spokesperson for the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, said.

Liu Youbin said the ministry, together with other relevant authorities, will be “unremitted in ensuring that the goal be achieved by the end of the year”.

Reporting on the topic, the Xinhua news agency noted: “China began importing solid waste as a source of raw materials in the 1980s and for years has been the world’s largest importer, despite its weak capacity in garbage disposal. Some companies have profited by illegally bringing foreign waste into the country, posing a threat to the environment and public health.

“The Chinese government vowed to halt such imports by the end of 2020, and moved to increase the domestic solid waste recycle rate.”

Product reclassification

The final version of the new legislation restricting solid waste imports to China and as to whether some waste might be reclassified as a product is yet to emerge. Already, however, at least two specific metal grades have been deemed as product and will be allowed in.

The question remains as to whether any waste paper will be allowed in after 2020 through giving specific grades, such as unsold newspapers or unused cardboard trimmings from cardboard box plants, although this is generally seen as unlikely.

However, American legal experts Aaron Goldberg and Weiwei Luo, attorneys with Beveridge & Diamond in Washington, have recently analysed China’s plans for solid waste legislation.

Shippers are already looking ahead to the restrictions

In an analysis of China’s plans to amend its solid waste statute, they note what appears to be a way for some waste materials to be considered as non-waste, saying the revision clarifies that a substance or article that would generally be classified as waste is considered as non-waste if it conforms to compulsory national product quality standards and does not endanger public health and ecological safety after being processed harmlessly, or if it is identified as non-waste in accordance with the solid waste identification standards and procedures (Article 124(1)).

For the full analysis by Aaron Goldberg and WeiWei Luo, CLICK HERE.

Ahead of the ban on solid waste imports, shipping lines are already raising the issue with their customers.


One major shipping line, Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), told that it “will comply with recently adopted legislation in China on the prevention and control of solid waste pollution and has instructed its shipping agents worldwide, prior to 1 June 2020, to reject any bookings for banned solid waste cargoes, in line with the requirements of the legislation. Cargo shippers may get in touch with MSC representatives in one of our 493 offices around the world to understand the impact of this legislation in China and on the international solid waste cargo market.”

It understood that MSC, one of the largest global shipping and logistics companies and the second in terms of container carriers, is aiming to be ready for the law changes from 1 September 2020 and so aims to avoid any shipments which might be due for delivery/pick-up in or after September that could fall outside the updated rules.

  • China’s paper-making industry registered shrinking revenue but expanding profits in the first five months of the year, according to the country’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT). The sector saw 457.27 billion yuan (about $64.73 billion) in revenue from January to May, down by 11.5% from the same period in the previous year. Meanwhile, the profits of China’s paper-making industry rose by 5.6% year-on-year to 22.13 billion yuan. MIIT data also showed that paper output stood at 46.36 million metric tons in the January-May period, decreasing by 6.8 percent year-on-year. In May alone, paper output declined by 0.5 percent year-on-year to 10.77 million tons.


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