The announcement has the effect of a thunderclap on the planet recycling. Last July 18, China has notified the world trade Organization (WTO) of its intention to prohibit the entry into its territory to the 24 categories of solid waste, including some plastics, paper and textiles. A measure it intends to implement as of next September or at the latest by the end of the year.
Facing a critical situation regarding the pollution of its air and its soil, China invokes the argument environmental. “We found that large quantities of waste, poor quality, and even hazardous waste, are mixed with solid waste. (…) It pollutes seriously the environment of China,” says the Environment ministry in its notification to the WTO.
At the same time, China is trying probably to promote its own recycling industry. Indeed, it has launched in 2017, a plan for an increase of 67% of the turnover of the recycling industry in 2020, compared to 2015.
Beijing has also announced its intention to close many of the recycling plants, the most polluting of the country has already started for several months to strengthen the quality control of the waste imported.
A quarter of all exports of waste absorbed today by the China
But this decision could have far-reaching consequences for the global industry waste as a whole.
Indeed, today China is the largest importer of waste. In 2015, it has absorbed 49.6 million tonnes of solid waste 180 million tons exported in the world this year for a value of $ 86 billion. Scrap metal constitute the bulk of exports ($87 million tons in 2015), in front of the paper (57.5 million tonnes), non-ferrous metals (16.3 million tons) and plastics (11.8 million tonnes).
These volumes, which have doubled since the beginning of the years 2000, represent only a small part of world production of waste, estimated at over one billion tonnes for the only household waste. And although the global trade in waste is highly regulated, including by the Basel Convention entry into force the years 90, it is estimated that 20% of produced volumes are subject to illegal trade. The latter affects mainly the waste electrical and electronic equipment “recycled” in the developing countries, in defiance of all standard health and environmental.
In 2015, China imported 7.3 million tons of plastic waste, mainly from Europe, Japan and the United States, as well as 27 million tons of waste paper.
The United States and Europe, the first victims of the ruling chinese
The United States and Europe are likely to be especially affected by the decision of Beijing. The first exported 42.8 million tons in 2015, for a total value of 23.7 billion, including $ 5.6 billion for the metals, paper and plastics.
It is to China that Europe sells more than 50% of its exports of waste, in particular plastic films or paper and cardboard. However, the capacity of the factories recycling the european will not be able to absorb these volumes if China refuses them now.
Of course, the decision of chinese will encourage the actors to be able to export waste quality, that is to say, already correctly sorted. But the market of certain materials, such as recycled plastics is already suffering from overcapacity, the industry is missing opportunities in the industry.
Beyond the risk of waterlogging in the treatment sites european, it is the downward pressure on the global prices of recycled materials that is threatening the global trade in waste.
In 2013 already, the measures taken by China to strengthen controls over the waste arriving on its territory had resulted in a drop in prices of recycled raw materials on world markets.