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China’s import ban triggers diversion of plastic scrap flows

Over recent years, ‘all roads have been leading to China’ for exporters of plastics scrap. But while the Asian giant used to buy in 7 million tons per year, its already-implemented ban on imports of post-consumer plastics scrap – to be extended to production scrap from the end of this year – has led to a fundamental shift in international trade, according to Surendra Patawari Borad of Gemini Corporation.

He describes China’s decision to block imports of production scrap as ‘a shocking development’ and ‘quite possibly a purely protectionist measure designed to promote domestic collections of plastics scrap’. The recycling industry had thought China’s actions were designed to combat the dumping of low-quality materials ‘but the ban on production waste imports clearly shows that the Chinese have a different agenda’.

Plastics easily absorbed?

The Chinese authorities’ import permit approvals for plastics scrap amounted to just 52 396 tons in the first four months of 2018, according to Dr Steve Wong, managing director of Fukutomi Company Limited and executive president of the China Scrap Plastics Association. ‘This quantity will be easily absorbed by the recycling industry by the time imports of plastic scrap come to a complete stop,’ he states in the Mirror publication.

With imports of plastic scrap having been switched to recycled pellets for which Chinese customs do not have in place a set of precise parameters for checking, thousands of containers have been piling up at various ports while random checks are conducted, Wong also notes.

‘A lurking fear’

In the wake of China’s restrictions on imports, volumes received by Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia ‘have increased many times over’, according to Patawari Borad. However, he adds, there is ‘a lurking fear’ of some sudden change in these countries’ own import regulations – a scenario which, he says, ‘would again push international trade into a tailspin’.

This article is based on the latest Plastics Mirror released by the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR).

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