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Chinese Waste Ban Update


October 11, 2017

During September, we learned that China’s Ministry of the Environment (MEP) is not renewing waste import licenses. As a result, material has started to pile up in Hong Kong (a major port of entry) and a handful of US municipal recycling programs have already begun to make adjustments in the materials they accept in response to the uncertainty created by the looming ban and new contamination standard. Market prices, particularly for paper, dropped significantly in September, with market observers linking that decline to the Chinese actions.  

Along with other stakeholders, SWANA has met with the US Department of Commerce, Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR), and the US Environmental Protection Agency about the ban, the contamination standard, and their potential effect on local recycling programs across the United States.  

In response to our concerns, the waste import ban and related issues were raised in late September meetings in China among Commerce, USTR and MEP representatives, and at a WTO committee meeting last week. However, it is unclear whether China will consider any changes to the proposed import ban or contamination standard. To date, MEP has been reluctant even to clarify some questions about the affected materials and applicable contamination standards. SWANA will continue to press the waste sector’s concerns with federal officials and others, and continues to monitor this dynamic situation closely.  

What Should State Agencies Do?  

Be prepared for increased market volatility, which is likely to drive greater uncertainty among your stakeholders. SWANA suggests state agencies take the following steps: 

Communicate with local governments, industry partners, generators, and other interested parties about the current disruption in recycling markets.

2. Educate all stakeholders about the importance of generating high quality material. China’s ongoing efforts to limit the amount of contamination in material imports -- dating back to the 2013 “Green Fence” -- highlight the need for recyclers to produce high quality material.

3. Renew efforts to encourage waste reduction and the development of alternative domestic markets for recyclable materials. Both have the potential to reduce reliance on Chinese markets. 
4. Review current and contemplated recycling goals and regulations in light of current market conditions.  

We will continue to monitor developments domestically and overseas, and will provide additional information as warranted. Some recycling programs in the United States have recently experienced reduced market prices for their material, and continued volatility can be expected in the short term. 

SWANA remains committed to recycling and resource management, and to working with members and partners at the local, state and federal levels to improve and expand recycling programs in the United States. If you have any questions, please free to contact me at dbiderman@swana.org or 240-494-2254. 


David Biderman                                                                                      

Executive Director & CEO

Solid Waste Association of North America

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