30 November 2020 by Steve Eminton

China ‘over’ but containers are main concern

China has published a notice officially confirming the ending of waste imports from 1 January 2021, but this in itself has prompted little reaction from the UK recycling sector.

Instead of concern at the Chinese government announcement, exporters of material such as recovered (waste) paper from the UK, are currently more alarmed about the cost and ongoing availability of shipping containers to serve overseas markets.

The notice, published on 25 November by three Chinese government departments, says that the country will “ban all imports of solid waste from Jan 1, 2021”. It was issued by the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, the Ministry of Commerce, and the General Administration of Customs.

Largest importer

Material inspections in China (picture supplied by China Ministry of Ecology and Environmental Protection)

The trio explained that the total ban is the culmination of policies introduced since 2017 to phase out the import of solid waste. And, they explained that “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 limited capacity in garbage disposal. Some companies illegally brought foreign waste into the country for profit, posing a threat to the environment and public health.

“With the growing public awareness of environmental issues and the success of China’s green development drive, the country’s solid waste imports have decreased significantly. Last year’s imports stood at 13.48 million tonnes, down from 22.63 million tonnes in 2018. In the first 10 months of this year, such imports plunged 42.7 percent year on year.”

Even though China is now not directly importing waste materials for recycling, it remains a massive influence on global commodity markets.

Pulp

One exporter commented that it was important to remember that China still has a big impact on world markets in many ways. “We can see the buying of virgin and recycled pulp as well as finished product which is driving demand for recovered paper for use in mills and production plants in other locations such as south east Asia.”

Major Chinese mills have also invested heavily outside of China in the knowledge that the Chinese authorities really would bring the waste imports ban into force.

For the recovered or waste paper sector in December, the main focus of attention today is on containers and availability of material – plus the looming impact of Brexit.

Chart shows how UK destinations have changed from China (first half of 2020). Source: Confederation of Paper Industries

Shipping rates are said to be increasing with shipping lines ruling the markets in terms of whether or not containers will be available with even reports of forward booking of boxes not always met.

East-west

One factor in a shortage of containers to destinations outside of China is that some shipping lines are said to be preferring to take boxes back to China empty, because the east-west load could be worth $6,000 whereas a deviation to another south east Asian nation on a west-east route would not be so profitable.

There is also extra interest in deep sea destinations for material because of concerns that any Brexit-inspired disruption in January might see deep sea become easier to export to than Europe.

Firm prices

Prices remain firm and there are reports that European mills are short of OCC and mixed papers. Many will not be shutting down over Christmas and so continental mills are said to remain keen to secure supplies from the UK. In contrast UK arisings are said to be good but domestic mills are not expected to drop prices as they seek to ensure stocks in an uncertain period and with good demand from UK packaging businesses.

Looking further ahead, one UK business said that “it is a disaster securing shipping out of the UK at the moment. Add to this the uncertainty of Brexit and we really don’t know what January will bring.”

Student collections

Students are being encouraged to recycle cardboard boxes

With the decision to halt the import of waste paper into China, the country is stepping up efforts to collect more material domestically. The Ministry for Ecology and Environment last week (27 November) gave the example of students at a university in Hengyang, Hunan province, who handed over used express boxes in exchange for credits, as part of an effort to raise the awareness of environmental protection. The Ministry explained that after the November 11 Singles Day “shopping extravaganza”, the campus of the University of South China in Hengyang had piles of paper boxes from students’ express orders, which cluttered the campus environment.

Zhang Li, counsellor for the university’s Chuanshan College, said that students could donate boxes at recycling sites and get one point in the “volunteering services and nonprofit labor activity” performance category, no matter the size of the box. Ten points can be converted into one class credit.

Those who donate more than eight boxes get a potted plant

Zhang Li, University Counsellor, Chuanshan

Zhang Li added: “It’s a graduation requirement that students must have at least eight credits in a second-class activity, under university rules. Students who donate more than two boxes get a bookmark, and those who donate more than eight boxes get a potted plant. From November 14 to 20, 2,657 students donated 1.2 metric tons of boxes, which will be sold. The money will be donated to social welfare homes and nursing homes in the city.”

“It’s not only about environmental protection. It also shows that we care for children and the elderly,” said student Liang Minyi.

 

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