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Plastics experts assess ‘Green Fence’ impact

United States – China’s widely-discussed ‘Operation Green Fence’ saw the rejection of 55 scrap transactions and 7600 tonnes of materials from the USA in its first three months, a panel of plastics specialists confirmed at a recent webinar for the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI).

Scrap used to be the top American export to China by value; in 2011, for example, plastic scrap exports were worth US$ 11.3 billion, according to US trade figures. In volume terms, this represented two-thirds of the 23 million tonnes of US plastic scrap exported that year. However, shipments are no longer arriving in China ‘thick and fast’, the panellists agreed.

Critical opportunity

Instead of focusing on the downsides, maybe it was time to look at how this situation could speed up advancement of the recycling industry, remarked MBA Polymers’ founder and president Dr Mike Biddle. ‘China’s ”Green Fence” offers a real opportunity to the US government and recycling industry to step up its efforts on recycling and catalyse a strong domestic recycling market in the US,’ he argued. ‘In the long term, creating a sustainable recycling market at home will improve recycling rates, create jobs and boost the US economy.’

Meanwhile, some traders have responded to the import controls by selling scrap to countries like Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia where the material is either reprocessed or simply sorted and cleaned to the new ‘Green Fence’ standards and then shipped to China. However, industry sources claim some US recyclers are already running recyclable waste through a second sorting step to guarantee higher quality themselves.

Biddle underlined that higher-level sorting will require ‘a wave of innovation and investment in world-leading plastics recycling techniques’.

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