EXCLUSIVE: China’s delegation to the World Trade Organization has confirmed that it will be producing a catalogue of ‘solid waste materials’ which can be imported as ‘raw materials’.
At the same time a statement at the WTO in December, from the delegation of China, said that over past decades, enterprises from other member states have sent “large quantities of solid wastes to China” and “derived huge financial gains”. China called on these states to make contributions to “global environmental protection”.
China also has reminded other countries that reforming its import administration for solid wastes “is one of the most important steps that the Chinese government has taken to implement the new Development ideas, safeguard the eco-environment safety and population health”.
China’s plan to produce a ‘raw materials from solid waste products’ catalogue along with their restrictions were presented to the WTO last month. Current restrictions into China are contained in a “Catalogue of solid wastes forbidden to import into China”. In this recent statement, China said it plans “to notify a catalogue of solid waste products that can be used as raw materials to the (WTO) Committee on Import Licensing along with their respective import restrictions.”
End of 2020 ban
The solid waste/raw materials catalogue is expected to be submitted to the WTO during 2019. Its contents will be of major interest to exporters of waste paper and scrap metal to Chinese mills because of the current proposed ban on all waste imports into China from the end of 2020.
There are hopes within the European Union that via the catalogue China will continue to allow the import of some waste materials for reprocessing, if they are of a very high quality and can be deemed as raw materials rather than waste.
Importer from UK
China has already imposed restrictions or bans on a range of solid waste imports, for example, with tight quality limits on the waste materials (such as cardboard) which are still allowed in. The country remains a very significant importer of waste materials from the UK, primarily used cardboard, newspapers and office grade waste paper as well as scrap metal (principally non-ferrous grades), even though Chinese mills are now producing outside of China and other countries, such as Vietnam, are becoming bigger importers of recyclables.
The UK recycling industry and its counterparts in Europe, the US, Canada, South Korea and Australia told the WTO they were all concerned about the impacts of the end of 2020 ban which was announced last June, as part of a wide-ranging package of environmental improvement measures. Then, China’s Central Committee of the Communist Party and the State Council on Ecological and Environment Protection said that there would be a total ban on foreign waste imports by the end of 2020: “It is a total ban on the entry of foreign garbage, cracking down on smuggling, drastically reducing the types and quantities of solid waste imports, and striving to achieve zero import of solid waste by the end of 2020.”
The ban will have a huge impact on the recycling sector unless the raw materials catalogue permits high quality waste materials to count as raw materials.
The precise wording of the raw materials catalogue will be crucial. There is a hope, for example, that used cardboard with less than 0.5% contamination might be included as a raw material.
And, the wording of China’s official statement at the WTO could be seen as giving some encouragement on this. The statement by China says: “China as a developing member with the largest population, must make the inevitable choice of restricting and prohibiting imports of solid wastes while improving its own domestic solid wastes treatment and disposal… China still allows the normal trade flow of raw materials processed from solid wastes but the import of solid wastes must be strictly controlled and regulated in order to reduce the risks to human, animal and plant life and health as well as to the eco-environment”.
Giving a perspective from the UK’s waste/recovered paper sector, Simon Ellin, chief executive of the Recycling Association, said: “One ray of light still out there is that while China has announced 32 categories of solid waste to be banned by 2020 we have made representations, with EURIC and others that if we are delivering cardboard with less than 0.5% outthrow, we have effectively achieved end of waste status.
“This material is a commodity and what we are hoping for is also that China understands that it is not going to be self-sufficient, and will recognise we are delivering a commodity and take it off the waste list as it is not a waste.”
Mr Ellin added: “We have proved – and the inspection service CCIC have said – that the UK is a tier one supplier; we are viewed in China that the material supplied is the Premier League of quality. The material for China is way better than the 1.5% EN643 level in our own European standards.”
Emmanuel Katrakis, secretary general of the Brussels-based European Recycling Industries Confederation (EURIC), told letsrecycle.com that the WTO statement by the China delegation “could be a positive step forward. But, to fully grasp if it is positive we need to see the document as soon as possible to look at it and assess it on its merits.”