A border guard in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, inpects bundles of waste textiles smuggled into China. (Photo/Xinhua)
To foster cleaner growth, China will refuse to accept 24 types of material for recycling.
China's ban on the importation of several types of solid waste is likely to come into force in March. The move has proved controversial, though, as China is a major market for global recyclables, and some exporting countries, including the United Kingdom and the United States, say it will cause a certain degree of turmoil.
The planned ban has already affected a number of companies in China, forcing them to close or suspend production, but experts claim it is urgently needed to protect the environment and public health, and will lead to an upgrade of the recycling sector.
On July 18, China notified the World Trade Organization that it would impose a ban on the importation of 24 types of solid waste in four classes, including unsorted waste paper, textiles and plastics by the end of the year, according to a WTO document.
The ban was proposed because of the "large amounts of dirty or even hazardous waste" polluting China's environment, the document stated.
A statement issued by the Bureau of International Recycling, a global alliance of recycling businesses in Brussels, said China later told the WTO that it would adopt new environmental standards for certain types of waste on Dec 31, and proposed March 1 as the day the ban would come into force, although the date has not yet been officially confirmed.
Since the move was announced in July, it has had an impact on both the global and domestic markets.
Shrinking export market
China has been a major processing center for waste for many decades, with imported waste recycled to provide raw materials for the manufacturing sector.
In 2016, more than 43 million metric tons of scrap iron and steel, nonferrous metals, paper and plastics were imported, with nonferrous metals alone valued at $8.42 billion, according to Ministry of Commerce data.
In addition, the largest sources of waste, including the US and European countries, are heavily reliant on China's recycling industry, so they are already feeling the impact of the ban and struggling to deal with the soaring volume of domestic waste.
Landfill and incineration costs are high in Europe, while other countries are likely to charge more than China to accept waste, according to Meadhbh Bolger, a resource use campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe.
In 2016, the UK collected 2 million tons of mixed paper for recycling, exporting more than half to China. Around one-third of plastic collected for recycling in Europe was sent to China.
Simon Ellin, chief executive of the UK Recycling Association, said the UK government has been "asleep at the wheel" since China announced the partial ban, which followed the introduction of restrictions on waste imports phased in over the past four years.
"We could have a big problem on our hands," he said. "Where is the material going to go? I expect that in the first quarter of next year, we will see the UK awash with mixed paper."
The US is confronted by a similar situation. Restrictions on the export of waste mean it is losing money, while it is spending time and energy attempting to find countries that will deal with the recyclable material China will no longer accept.