Scrap metal traders and processors in China are expressing growing concern that China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) is preparing a directive that will ban the import of several scrap materials.
According to recyclers who say they have spoken to trade association representatives based in China or to lower-level Chinese central government employees, the MEP as of mid-May 2017 is not making any detailed statements about the pending changes, but has acknowledged that such changes are being drafted.
Metals processors who have spoken to China-based association personnel say “category 7” scrap metals, which includes the high-volume baled wire and cable and shredded motor grades, are among the types of scrap that could be prohibited, perhaps as soon as 2019.
As far back as October 2016 at the Paper & Plastics Recycling Conference Europe in Rotterdam, a European trader who ships the majority of his materials to China said he had been hearing the central government was preparing to block the importing of multiple scrap materials, including mixed paper and most plastics.
Subsequently, the National Sword initiative being carried out by several government agencies at Chinese ports in 2017 has resulted in plastic scrap shipments being rejected, held up for long periods of time or hit with large customs clearance fees that make transactions unprofitable.
Political observers in China say much of the scrutiny ties into media reports that portray an influx of “foreign garbage” as causing environmental harm in China. A 2016 documentary called Plastic China reportedly has caught the attention of officials in Beijing in particular.
Metals recyclers are increasingly convinced restrictions on their trading activities will follow. In recent decades, the Washington-based Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) and the Brussels-based Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) have lobbied against trade restrictions they see as protectionist in nature.
A section of the April 18, 2017, announcement from China’s central government declaring that new restrictions were forthcoming states the changes are being designed to “strengthen the regulation on solid waste management for the development of the Chinese circular economy.” That could be interpreted that the law is intended to boost markets for domestically collected scrap materials at the expense of imported secondary commodities.
A clause adopted by ISRI’s board of directors in July 2003 reads in part, “As part of its role in encouraging fair trade, ISRI should raise documented issues of unfair or illegal trade practices with the appropriate government(s) agency(ies).”
On its website, the BIR states, “BIR has always advocated the free flow of recycled materials and actively monitors potential threats posed by trade restrictions and other protectionist measures.”