Chinese government reiterates paper, ferrous scrap barrier

Proclamation reinstates intention to prohibit ferrous scrap and recovered fibre imports.

A November 25 announcement posted to the Chinese Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) website updates and reaffirms that nation’s intention to prohibit the import of recovered fibre, plastic scrap, ferrous scrap and other recyclable materials starting January 1, 2021.

While buyers of high-grade non-ferrous scrap in China are beginning to take advantage of a new “resource” designation for some materials formerly regulated as “waste,” recyclers and traders of every other material face being cut off from their former Chinese customers.

In 2015, China purchased more than seven million metric tons of plastic scrap from the rest of the world, according to an International Scrap Trade Database formerly posted to the website of the Washington-based Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI).

That same year, China purchased more than 29 million metric tons of recovered fibre from the rest of the world, becoming the end market of choice for a double-digit percentage of non-metallic materials coming out of material recovery facilities (MRFs) in North America and Europe.

The latest MEE directive out of China, forwarded by the Brussels-based Bureau of International Recyclers (BIR) to its members, states the ministry “has stopped accepting and approving applications for import licenses for imported solid waste that can be used as raw materials.”

Recycling associations such as BIR and ISRI have attempted to communicate with the Chinese government and ask for a relabelling of scrap materials away from waste and toward a designation that recognises they have a value and a role in the industrial economy.

The dialog has helped produce the new resource designation for high-grade, relatively pure forms of aluminium, copper and brass scrap.

China’s steel industry is reportedly making progress toward having high grades of ferrous and stainless steel scrap receive similar resource status, and some recycled-content plastic pellets have attained a similar status.

It remains unclear, however, how or whether such designations might yet allow some of that former 29 million tons of old corrugated containers (OCC) and other scrap paper grades to obtain a path to re-enter the People’s Republic of China.