17 November 2017 by Will Date

China moves toward 0.5% contamination limit

Further details have emerged of the proposed revised standard for the export of materials to China for recycling, which could now be set at 0.5% allowable levels of contrary material rather than the originally proposed 0.3%.

However, this is lower than a 1.0% figure which had been presented at a meeting of the World Trade Organisation in Geneva earlier this month, and was seen as being more favourable for exporters (see letsrecycle.com story).

China is proposing new limits for the amount of non-target material that is permissable in waste imported into the country

China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection is expected to publish the new standards shortly – as part of its crackdown on contamination found in waste materials imported into the country. If adopted the standards would come into force from 31 December 2017.

Documents published on the World Trade Organisation’s website this week suggest a 0.5% contamination rate for both waste plastics and paper is now preferred by the Chinese authorities.

During the meeting this month Chinese officials revealed that the measure is part of a “policy framework” and an effort to better regulate solid waste.

Transition

A six month transition period has been provided officials said, which it is thought may expire around March 2018.  Authorities have “further clarified” the scope of the measure based on comments from WTO members, the meeting was told.

Representatives from the European Union, Japan, the United States, Australia and Canada questioned the broad scope of the measure, and whether it applied to domestic operators in the same way as foreign operators as well as appealing for a longer transition period of up to five years.

Documents posted on the World Trade Organisation’s website offer the latest update on the Chinese authorities’ stance on plastic imports

The proposal from China for tighter restrictions has already seen the UK waste sector working hard to improve quality.

However, a 0.5% out-throw level is expected to be tough to achieve for some operators, who had favoured the possible 1% threshold, although it is still seen as being more achievable than the 0.3% level which had initially been discussed.

China remains an important market for exporters of recovered materials as it usually takes in from the UK about 1.1 million tonnes of mixed paper per annum.

Plastics remains a more challenging area for recyclers because of the low value of poorer quality material and sorting costs. While bottles remain in demand, there is a drive to clean up plastic film for recycling and the market for pots, tubs and trays is seen as poor financially.

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