China trash ban is a global recycling wake up call

China's trash import ban is giving the global recycling industry an enormous headache. The flip side: the world has f...

Posted: Apr 20, 2018 4:12 PM
Updated: Apr 20, 2018 4:12 PM

China's trash import ban is giving the global recycling industry an enormous headache. The flip side: the world has finally been forced to rethink its approach to waste.

Beijing has last year banned the imports of 24 varieties of solid waste, including types of plastic and unsorted paper. On Friday, it extended the ban to dozens more types of recyclable materials, including steel waste, used auto parts and old ships.

The ban has terrible consequences for some places. A town in Australia has been sending recyclable waste to a landfill because it can no longer afford to recycle it.

In the UK, hoards of low-grade plastic have been hanging around in storage, eventually heading for incineration.

The US Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries warned the ban is disrupting global supply chains and may lead manufacturers to use new materials rather than recycled ones.

But experts say the ban has been a massive wake-up call for countries like the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, Japan and others who relied on China to buy and handle their trash from them.

The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries said 31% of America's scrap commodity exports was sent to China in 2017. In the UK, almost all of recycled plastic used to be sent to China and Hong Kong for processing.

With China shutting its door on foreign garbage, several countries, including the UK have started talking about imposing taxes on some plastic items to make people use fewer materials.

Others, like Australia, have invested tens of millions of dollars to help local councils with the waste crisis.

Related: Plastic straw makers brace for bans

Simon Ellin, the chief executive of the Recycling Association in the United Kingdom, said the ban is prompting more investment into recycling technologies.

That's because China and other countries, including European countries, will still buy high-quality scrap material that can be recycled into new items. It's just the low-grade, more polluting stuff China doesn't want.

Other countries, including India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Germany and the Netherlands, have stepped in to buy some of UK's trash, although at lower prices -- and not all of it.

"Some low-grade materials, plastic especially, that are collected at curbside in the UK have proved more difficult to move, because there isn't a market to move all of this material," he said, adding these materials are currently stuck in storage facilities, while some might be burned, rather than recycled.

Related: UK 'sin taxes' are working. Here's the proof

He said that knowing the country would no longer be able to ship poor-quality recycling materials to China, its biggest buyer, meant the UK recycling industry had to start changing. Others will follow.

"It is inevitable that in the future, other countries will follow China, looking into bringing similar quality standards, so the quality of our material has to be better," he said.

"Slowing the [recycling] process down allows us to produce better-quality materials. Companies are adopting higher standards and much more stringent processes. There is more investment in technology," he added.

In Ellin's mind, the ban is a good thing, that will eventually force the entire supply chain to change, from the initial design of the product, to local waste collection authorities, to the companies that sort and recycle trash.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 307332

Reported Deaths: 7095
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto20757248
Hinds19869408
Harrison17475302
Rankin13307275
Jackson13095243
Madison9886210
Lee9854169
Jones8289160
Forrest7522146
Lauderdale7185237
Lowndes6261144
Lamar610284
Lafayette6026117
Washington5279132
Bolivar4769129
Oktibbeha455297
Panola4440103
Pearl River4418139
Warren4277118
Marshall4267100
Pontotoc416472
Monroe4056132
Union403575
Neshoba3984176
Lincoln3869107
Hancock371985
Leflore3468124
Sunflower329389
Tate322681
Pike3177104
Scott310472
Yazoo304268
Alcorn297664
Itawamba296776
Copiah292965
Coahoma289677
Simpson287484
Tippah284668
Prentiss275659
Marion265679
Wayne261341
Leake260973
Grenada254882
Covington254380
Adams245882
Newton244859
George237647
Winston225981
Tishomingo222067
Jasper219748
Attala213273
Chickasaw204857
Holmes186471
Clay182354
Stone179131
Clarke176676
Tallahatchie175240
Calhoun163130
Yalobusha158636
Smith158534
Walthall130543
Greene129433
Lawrence126223
Noxubee125833
Montgomery125542
Perry125138
Carroll120826
Amite119941
Webster113432
Jefferson Davis105332
Tunica102525
Claiborne101330
Benton97225
Kemper95126
Humphreys94332
Franklin81723
Quitman78916
Choctaw72817
Jefferson64828
Wilkinson64727
Sharkey49617
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 518588

Reported Deaths: 10712
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson753351487
Mobile37698798
Madison33829494
Tuscaloosa25245443
Montgomery23942565
Shelby23094238
Baldwin20617300
Lee15510165
Calhoun14277311
Morgan14137268
Etowah13660345
Marshall11952219
Houston10379278
Elmore9988200
Limestone9806147
Cullman9467188
St. Clair9422234
Lauderdale9208227
DeKalb8745181
Talladega8042171
Walker7087275
Jackson6753110
Autauga6715103
Blount6480135
Colbert6200130
Coffee5397112
Dale4766110
Russell428238
Franklin419882
Chilton4080109
Covington4053114
Tallapoosa3892146
Escambia387574
Dallas3526149
Chambers3499122
Clarke346360
Marion3065100
Pike305475
Lawrence295295
Winston272272
Bibb256258
Marengo248561
Geneva245875
Pickens232959
Barbour224755
Hale218675
Butler212266
Fayette208960
Henry187844
Cherokee182044
Randolph176741
Monroe171240
Washington163838
Macon154348
Clay149354
Crenshaw149257
Cleburne146041
Lamar139234
Lowndes136453
Wilcox124327
Bullock121340
Conecuh109028
Perry107926
Sumter102932
Coosa99228
Greene90734
Choctaw58624
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