China sharply reduces the import of foreign industrial waste. An earthquake or a chance for the European recycling industry?

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Since 1er January 2018, China has decided to block the import of many categories of waste. China is also the world's first recycling plant after being the first manufacturing plant in the world! This decision poses many problems both in our countries and there. Analysis of the facts!

A Chinese ban undergone and sudden

Since the January 1er, Beijing has blocked the import of 24 categories of solid waste, some plastics, paper and textiles ... This measure ban was announced only six months earlier by Beijing during a WTO congress. The advanced reasons are ecological: China must treat more and more its own waste with the increase of the Chinese standard of living!

Six months is a very short time, both at the industrial and political levels, no one has had time to adapt and this may pose some problems in the months, even years, that come!

Indeed, American and European industries had gotten used to treat their waste in China and this basically, very large volumes. The economic reasons are quite simple. There is the reduced treatment cost in China, the strong demand for Chinese raw materials and less restrictive environmental standards than in Europe or the USA. Also the container doors, filled with Chinese products, could be more profitable during their return trip to China ... Since China exports much more than any finished product!

This prohibition therefore disrupts the global waste market, which has very little time to turn around. European and American manufacturers must adapt ... and quickly ... very quickly ...

Glass bubble
The younger generation has already taken the good habits of responsible people even if it is still missing a few centimeters! Photo DR.

Arnaud Brunet, director of the Brussels-based International Recycling Office (BIR), is saddened:

"It's an earthquake, we always have the shock wave. This has put our industry under stress because China is simply the world's largest market for the export of recyclables. "

And rightly says that:

"The processing capacities do not move like this overnight, in the immediate future the accumulation of waste, especially in Europe, is a major risk. "

The consequences of the ban here ... and in China

The European Union exports half of its sorted plastics at 85% to ChinaSo, it is more than 40% of the sorted European waste which has, today, no more openings! The United States has sent 2016 more than half of its exports of non-ferrous metal scrap, paper and plastics, or 16,2 million tons.

Thus the immediate impact will be significant, according to "conservative" estimates of the BIR, the global exports of paper to China could plunge of a quarter between 2016 and 2018 and those of plastics collapse of 80% in two years, from 7,35 to 1,5 million tons. That's millions of tons to treat ... elsewhere!

This ban also poses a problem for Chinese recycling companies used to very large imported volumes that will not be offset immediately by internal volumes in China.

Thus Hangzhou Jinglian, owner of a plastic waste processing company, Huizhou Qingchun explains that:

"It will become difficult to work, more than half of our raw material is imported and production will be reduced by at least a third"

He said he had recently separated from a dozen employees.

Metal sorting
Selective sorting of cans and other metal containers of the "spray" type. Photo DR

Relocate relocation?

What would be the alternatives for rich countries? Arnaud Brunet suggests relocating relocation:

"We will look for alternative solutions, try to identify new substitute markets, assuming they have the processing capacity: we are talking about India, Pakistan or Cambodia"

With as "disaster scenario" but highly probable, the solution that this waste is incinerated or placed in landfill. In Germany, very waste sort, the first effects are already visible less than a month after the ban.

In addition to Atlantic: Brandon Wright, spokesperson of the NWRA, the American Federation of Waste and Recycling Explain :

"Factories are looking at how to store their extra waste and some are storing it on car parks or at outside sites"

Nevertheless some have already taken the lead, as well Brent Bell, a manager of Waste Management, North America's leading recycler of household waste, says:

"We have been working for years to develop in India, Vietnam, Thailand, and even Latin America. The recent investments of several American paper manufacturers allow us to move waste to these alternative markets quickly "

Adapt and improve our current treatment systems?

But relocate relocation is it a solution so sustainable and econological that it?

Since the ban case could very well happen elsewhere! The sustainable and econological solution would not it be to adapt our own recovery, sorting, recycling and waste treatment capabilities ? Especially in France where the " Energy recovery ", Understand incineration, has been widely favored for decades compared to our direct European neighbors (Belgium, Germany, Switzerland ...). Of course, we should also work at the source: that is to say to try to reduce the volume of waste! This decision may be a chance for industries in develop their treatment processes and better value resources ! This is the way to go according to us!

The European Union unveiled Tuesday, but belatedly, its strategy to reduce the use of single-use plastics, with the aim that all such packaging is recyclable by 2030.

Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President of the European Commission, rightly explains that:

"We should use this decision to challenge ourselves and ask ourselves why we Europeans are not able to recycle our own waste"

Indeed only 30% of Europeans' plastic waste is recycled at the moment. The rest ends cremated to produce energy (39%) or discharge (31%).

Recycling plastic bottles
Good plastic recycling begins with sorting by type and color of plastic. Photo DR.

A chance for European waste recovery industries

The opportunity now presents itself to boost the reprocessing sectors and create new sustainable and econo- mic jobs! So Belgian entrepreneurs propose via Les Echos :

"Let's reverse the flow and develop a plastic waste processing industry in Belgium in general and in Wallonia in particular. Sorting technologies are improving. We can now sort most types of plastic used in packaging. Let's invest in state-of-the-art sorting centers, as well as recycling factories in the Walloon Region and Brussels.

Let's become the "smart bin" of Europe. By treating ourselves not only these 424.000 tons of plastics, but also some of the flows of other developed countries now refused by China. That is to say, some of these 7 million tons today blocked or in stroll. Let's go one step further: today, large waste streams of the PMC type (Plastics Metals Cartons) leave Belgium for Germany or the Netherlands, where they are better sorted and recycled. Let's build the ad hoc installations in Wallonia to reverse this current too "

Sort your waste
So that the Earth does not look like a trash planet, let's value our waste! Photo DR.

The opportunity could also allow to develop new technologies for treatment or recovery of waste, as the converting plastic into fuel. Indeed ; projects of plastic to fuel conversion have been in the boxes for a few years!

Well, there is more to it! Let's just hope that some people do not take advantage of this ban to legitimize a strong increase (sustainable!) In the cost of collecting household waste ... but nothing is less certain!

Christophe Martz. Photos DR.

Go further: what are (and will be) the consequences of the ban on imports of waste in China from 1er January 2018?


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