Chinese government formulating more import standards, says BIR
Chinese government standards for imported, reprocessed recycled-content pellets may be on the way, according to the Bureau of International Recycling.
Photo courtesy of PreZero.

Chinese government formulating more import standards, says BIR

Recycling association says definitions of high-purity ferrous scrap and reprocessed plastic grades could follow those for nonferrous metals.

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October 8, 2020

The Brussels-based Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) says the government of China is making progress in creating “quality standards for mechanically recycled secondary raw materials.”

For several years, various agencies in China’s government, including its Ministry of Ecology and the Environment (MEE) and its General Administration of Customs (GACC), have focused on restrictions placed on what it often refers to as “foreign garbage” that it classifies as waste.

In the nonferrous metals sector, the Standardization Administration of China (SAC) has published Guobiao Standards (GB/T) for aluminum, brass and copper scrap grades as: GB/T38470-2019 for brass; GB/T38471-2019 for copper; and GB/T38472-2019 for aluminum alloys. The GB/T standards have been designed to allow some grades of nonferrous scrap to enter Chinese ports beyond Jan. 1, 2021, when “waste” shipments have been banned.

Now, BIR says it has learned the SAC is drafting GB/T standards for iron and steel secondary raw materials that have been mechanically recycled.

As well, BIR says the SAC is working in cooperation with the Chinese National Committee of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) to draft “a series of GB/T Standards for ‘Plastics – Recycled Plastics’ that will include polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), mixed polyolefins, acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), polystyrene (PS), polycarbonate (PC), polyamide (PA), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polybutylene terephthalate (PBT), polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and poly(methyl methacrylat (PMMA).”

There is no word from BIR on whether any paper grades are being considered for reclassification, although two different traders Recycling Today has spoken with say they are hearing the old newspapers (ONP), or the news and pams grade as it is known in Europe, is reportedly being discussed as the first to be reclassified for importing purposes. Old corrugated containers (OCC) is the most commonly imported recovered fiber grade in China. Recycled-content pulp is currently allowed entry.

According to BIR, the new Chinese standards “set very high quality standards for secondary raw materials,” having “the same ultimate purpose of distinguishing between unprocessed ‘waste and scrap’ and ‘mechanically recycled’ secondary raw materials.”

BIR, in an October 7 news release, says the standards serve a similar purpose as European regulations for and definitions of iron and steel, aluminum and aluminum alloy scrap, citing EU Council Regulation No. 333/2011 for ferrous and aluminum materials; EU Commission Regulation No. 715/2013 for copper; and EU Commission Regulation No. 1179/2012 for glass cullet glass.

In an interview to be broadcast as part of the Oct. 20-22 Paper & Plastics Recycling International Conference, Adina Renee Adler, a vice president with the Washington-based Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), cites such definitions and standards in China, Indonesia and elsewhere as a trend.

Adler says global scrap traders used to engage in transactions based on an understanding between the buyer and seller. Increasingly, she comments, each global transaction “has to pass the scrutiny of governments.”

Adding to the difficulties, says Adler, can be the uneven amount of training received by customs officials and inspectors in overseas ports. To such under-trained personnel, even compliant secondary raw material shipments may be viewed as a waste product rather than an industrial feedstock with value.

Regarding China’s approach, BIR says, “For these regulations and standards to be legitimized, it is important that the framework legislation in the United Nations Basel Convention, inter alia, explicitly recognizes that recycling of organics, of metals and of other inorganic materials is through ‘mechanical recycling’, as well as other technologies and techniques.”

As the Jan. 1, 2021, deadline on scrap imports draws near in China, producers of metal, paper and board, and plastic products there seem to have communicated to their government that secondary raw materials imports in some form will be necessary, in the BIR’s words, “to fulfill future material needs of its industries.”

The drafted GB/T standards for brass scrap can be found on this webpage; for copper scrap on this webpage; and for aluminum alloys on this webpage.