BIR Convention: Clean It Up

Increased scrutiny by China’s customs agents may boost the amount of work performed by overseas plastics recyclers.

June 4, 2013
Recycling Today Staff
Conferences & Events Legislation & Regulations Plastics

China’s Operation Green Fence was uppermost on the list of topics for recyclers who spoke at the Plastics Committee meeting at the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) 2013 World Recycling Convention in Shanghai.

“A butterfly in China has created a tornado in Europe,” commented Plastics Committee Chairman Surendra Borad of Gemini Corp., Antwerp, Belgium.

Fellow committee member Gregory Cardot of Veolia Proprete of France told attendees that customs officers in China are “only applying a Chinese regulation of 2010.” Cardot added that his company and other “main actors” in plastics recycling do not regard Green Fence as a temporary phase. “This rule must continue and must be identical to all the players [because recyclers] will have to structure themselves to develop their quality and develop the plastics recycling processes of tomorrow.”

Guest speaker Steve Wong of Hong Kong-based Fukutomi Co. Ltd. said Green Fence was implemented to “stop some of the [companies] in China that don’t have the ability to recycle” hazardous or mixed materials from accepting contaminated loads.

Guest speaker Steve Wong of Hong Kong-based Fukutomi Co. Ltd.

Wong said among the prohibited materials customs inspectors are looking for are:
•    bulk bags and sacks, usually woven or made of polypropylene;
•    mixed rigid post-consumer plastics;
•    LDPE films such as ag foils;
•    mixed PET and HDPE bottles and jugs;
•    metallized DVD and CD scrap, unless it is going directly to approved facilities near Guangzhou; and
•    unsorted electronic scrap with plastic and metals mixed together.

In some cases, Wong said the prohibition of some of these materials “is a shame, because it is valuable material.”

Another end result is likely to be increased sorting and processing investment and effort in Europe and North America. “In order to survive, overseas suppliers have started recycling and processing their post-consumer [plastics] into recycled raw materials locally.”

Guest speaker Cai Renwu of Guangzhou GISE-MBA Polymers said Chinese media portrayals of mixed plastic as “foreign garbage” have been hard for Chinese consumers of plastic material to overcome. “Some single negative events have been exaggerated, causing overall embarrassment to the industry’s reputation.”

Among the burdens for plastics scrap importers, said Cai, is that two different inspection processes are requiring two different sets of standards. While the customs office is enforcing Ministry of Environmental Protection standards and carefully matching descriptions to container content, the AQSIQ (Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine) is scrutinizing for “tidiness.” Said Cai, “We do not have uniform standards.”

Wong predicted the difficulty of obtaining approval from all Chinese agencies will continue to drive U.S. and European recyclers to invest in sorting and re-processing equipment, perhaps to the point of making recycled pellets. “It is very difficult for factories [in China] who rely on this kind of material,” said Wong. “In the end, they will have to pay more for upgraded material.”

The 2013 BIR World Recycling Convention & Exposition was at the Pudong Shangri-La Hotel in Shanghai May 27-29.