ISRI2017: Barriers loom in Chinese scrap trade

ISRI2017: Barriers loom in Chinese scrap trade

National Sword and a vague April announcement are causing concern for scrap exporters.

May 2, 2017
Brian Taylor
Conferences & Events International Recycling News Legislation & Regulations Nonferrous Plastics

Pictured above, left to right: David Chiao of Uni-All Group, Steve Wong of Fukutomi Corporation, Robin Cai of Alter Trading and Adina Renee Adler of ISRI.


Spring 2017 has been presenting barriers and question marks for exporters sending scrap materials from the rest of the world into China. Presenters at a session on the state of scrap trading with China at ISRI2017, the annual convention of the Washington-based Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc. (ISRI), say some of the challenges could remain, as could some of the confusion.


Imported plastic scrap shipments have been having difficulty clearing customs into China since the introduction of the “National Sword” campaign in January 2017, noted Dr. Steve Wong. Wong is the managing director of Hong Kong-based Fukutomi Co. Ltd. and the chairman of the China Scrap Plastics Association.


The disruption in the plastic scrap trade into China is so severe that Wong said, “Small recyclers are being squeezed out and others are shifting operations to Southeast Asian countries.”


While National Sword has been billed as a one-year campaign, a policy announcement made by China’s central government on April 18, 2017, could potentially have more lasting effects. The brief statement, according to the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR), hints that the list of scrap materials prohibited to enter China will grow longer in 2017 and 2018 as several government agencies work together to “develop and implement a ban on solid waste imports [by] type and volume through legal, economic and administrative means.”


Robin Cai, general manager of the Hong Kong office of St. Louis-based Alter Trading Corp., said China’s scrap metal market has traveled a long way from its earlier “wild West” days when companies engaged in “market as a casino” practices.


In addition to regulations providing hurdles, Cai said, “Chinese consumers are increasingly selective in who they buy from,” and the remaining China-based buying firms are now “managed by professionals and second-generation family members with advanced degrees.” She added, “They have extensive knowledge of overseas scrap suppliers.”


Cai said the details are still unclear about what the April 18, 2017, announcement means. Statistically, however, more than half of the copper scrap crossing international borders is sent to China, so any major change would be disruptive. “China’s demand for metal remains formidable,” she added.


Along with the increased government scrutiny, Cai also listed a shortage of laborers for scrap hand sorting and non-automated processing as reasons why for China’s scrap importers, “The strong will get stronger and the weak will get weaker.”


David Chiao of Atlanta-based Uni-All Group, who also serves as the chair of the BIR’s Non-Ferrous Division, said both National Sword and the April 18 statement point to why regarding any company doing business with China, “We need to watch out; you need to be alert.”


Regarding China’s economy, Chiao commented that while the nation’s manufacturing sector purchasing manager’s index (PMI) may have been stuck in neutral for the past several years, China’s service sector PMI has been consistently strong since 2012, indicating the government’s intended shift toward a more service-based economy could be working.


ISRI2017 was in at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans April 22-27, 2017.

Copper Polyethylene/PE Polypropylene/PP Rigid plastics