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.

Confirmed Cases: 115763

Reported Deaths: 3263
CountyConfirmedDeaths
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Harrison522384
Jackson457884
Rankin394086
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Jones292484
Washington258399
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Warren154855
Monroe150673
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Marshall143129
Lincoln140157
Pike138456
Copiah137536
Scott125429
Coahoma124937
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Union118825
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Winston84121
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Tishomingo81241
Attala79426
Clarke75851
Clay69321
Jasper68717
Walthall63927
Calhoun62612
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Smith59416
Montgomery54923
Yalobusha54514
Claiborne53716
Tunica53517
Lawrence51814
Perry49423
Carroll49312
Greene47818
Stone47514
Humphreys43816
Amite42513
Quitman4206
Jefferson Davis41011
Webster37613
Benton3416
Wilkinson33820
Kemper32615
Sharkey28514
Jefferson27610
Franklin2423
Choctaw2086
Issaquena1074
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 158701

Reported Deaths: 2680
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson23292377
Mobile16916315
Tuscaloosa10345140
Montgomery10250197
Madison935096
Shelby739063
Baldwin665869
Lee654665
Calhoun459961
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Morgan416435
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St. Clair295542
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Walker279492
Talladega266435
Cullman248024
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Jackson215915
Autauga205931
Franklin205531
Colbert202132
Russell19493
Blount193225
Chilton188432
Dallas186627
Coffee177111
Dale176351
Covington174729
Escambia172730
Clarke135217
Chambers135044
Pike134113
Tallapoosa132987
Marion108129
Barbour10339
Marengo101922
Butler101140
Winston92913
Geneva9067
Lawrence85832
Pickens85218
Bibb84014
Randolph82716
Hale76830
Washington74912
Clay74412
Cherokee73814
Henry7176
Lowndes71328
Bullock64917
Monroe64610
Crenshaw60830
Perry5926
Fayette57713
Cleburne5698
Wilcox56812
Conecuh56113
Macon53620
Lamar4965
Sumter47221
Choctaw39212
Greene34216
Coosa2043
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