Mid-2017, China announced that there would be a ban of certain recovered materials. Though this ban became active in 2018, it has a significantly longer history. The ban against imports began in 2013, with a customs crackdown, and has been sending waves throughout international trade since then.
February 2013: The Green Fence
In 2006 and 2010, China passed import regulations related to scrap material. In 2013, China took new initiatives to enforce these regulations, launching more intense inspections of the scrap materials that were coming in. China's efforts were targeted towards avoiding the importing of "trash" materials from other countries. For shippers of recycled products, such as papers and plastics, this added a level of complexity to the market.
November 2015: The Crackdown
In November 2015, a crackdown was initiated on the importers of products, whereas the Green Fence was mostly situated around the docks and entry points into the country. This crackdown was focused on heightening regulations on those who might be importing these scrap materials.
February 2017: The Sword
Groups attempting to use illegal permits to import banned materials were targeted through National Sword, which was focused primarily on those who were smuggling demand. Like other initiatives, this was mostly focused on low-grade plastics and high-moisture content paper.
March 2017: The Arrests
From February 2017 through March 2017, arrests increased throughout China. In the first few weeks of this action, 90 suspects were arrested in total, with 22,100 metric tons of banned, foreign scrap being confiscated. These arrests, under The National Sword enforcement, were meant to further discourage banned smuggling and imports.
April 2017: The Quality
In addition to looking for banned and poor quality products, The National Sword program started assessing the quality of goods being imported as well. However, these quality checks introduced additional shipping delays into already lengthy processing times. Later in April, it was suggested that regulations should be further tightened for better results.
May 2017: The Fees
From April to May 2017, exporters saw import fees doubling. These fees made it far more difficult to send goods into China and dissuaded some from continuing to do business in the region. Officials from the Institute of Scrap Recycling, a U.S. trade group, investigated the changes being made in China and determined that The National Sword effort and the scrap materials ban seemed to be different policies.
July 2017: The Raids
In addition to studies regarding pollution, the Chinese government began to conduct raids. Another 85,000 metric tons of contraband material was seized, with many individuals related to the importing of these materials being arrested.
In late July of 2017, China began a string of demands that appeared to be impossible, proposing updates to the requirements of imported goods, such as a maximum contamination level of 0.3 percent. At this point, many shipments had been significantly slowed.
October 2017: The Fallout
By the end of October 2017, the above issues had reached a head. Import permits had not been renewed for five months and, with falling fiber values and plummeting corrugated container prices, the situation in China started having a significant impact on global trade.
December 2017: The Ban
At the end of the year, Chinese officials again reaffirmed their intent to continue their ban and to create a program similar to National Sword. At the same time, the ISRI reported that it was skeptical that China properly understood the ramifications of such a ban.
March 2018: The Blue Sky
China continues to explore new bans and plans, now with a 0.5 percent contamination limit. The China Scrap Plastics Association has described the upcoming program, Blue Sky, as an evolution of Green Fence and National Sword.
As an ultimate result of these changes, the United States is likely to have to take on additional landfill materials. Many businesses are already exploring how these materials could be recycled into new products, especially as these scrap materials are now far less expensive. The situation in China is ongoing. If you have questions about China's ban, please contact us at Central Kentucky Fiber Resources. Subscribe to our blogs to continue to get updated on this issue.