If it was not clear as it was happening, then surely the pattern can be seen in hindsight. China is nearing its self-imposed deadline of 2020 to cease garbage imports completely. Since 2015, China has steadily increased its limitations on what will be accepted from other countries, which will ultimately end in no imports by 2021. This is a focused and proactive movement that will prevail before the beginning of the new year.
An Escalation in Duties and Tariffs
The relations between the United States and China have always been tense. An argument can be made to support the notion that some of this discontent manifests as tit-for-tat economic sanctions on both sides of the imported products in August 2018.
The gradual decline of the volume of recovered fiber imports into China began in 2016. It was approximately 1.2 metric short tons less than in 2015. The next year was 3 metric short tons lighter than that. By 2018, another 10.4 metric short tons were lost. Between 2015 and 2019, the weight of imports decreased from 32.2 metric short tons to 11.4 metric short tons.
The slight decline between 2016 and 2017 was no cause for great concern, but it was a preview of what was to come. China imposed strict qualifications on recovered fiber grades and banned mixed paper and plastic in 2018. That year China imported only 18.8 metric short tons. The 11.4 metric short tons reported in 2019 will dwindle further still due to even more restrictions.
Garbage vs. Recycle
The Chinese Ministry of Ecology and Environment announced in 2017 that the country was going to phase out garbage imports. The US recycling industry calls its exports to China recyclable material. This is another part of the problem.
Americans are notorious for trying to recycle non-recyclable material or contaminating qualifying recyclable material until it is useless as recycle. Perhaps the cost and effort became more than the waste was worth.
And Yet More Enforcement
Throughout 2019, the ministry has begun to approach the problem from other perspectives like controlling smuggling and processing waste irresponsibly. The goal is to restructure the county's smaller and more unorganized facilities into ones that adhere to environmental regulations and procedures.
In an effort to make the deadline of 2021, Chinese ministry officials have supported a transition from trade with China to trade with other countries throughout Southeast Asia, like Malaysia. As direct and steadfast as China has been in its endeavor to stop environmentally unsound imports, it should have no problem reaching its goal by the deadline.
Keep up with the fluctuating relations between China and the United States by keeping up with our blog here.