China's ban on certain waste materials

There have been a number of reports in the mainstream press recently about China banning the import of certain materials, particularly plastics, collected in local authority recycling schemes.

None of the Authority’s recyclables currently go to China, but obviously any major change in international processing capacity will affect the wider market for these materials.   

Cory Riverside Energy, which  is responsible for the sale of the Authority’s recycling materials, has reported that the ban has not, to date, affected its ability to sell recycling materials, but it does report a significant drop in the prices being paid for cardboard and mixed paper. Also, it has not had any “rejected loads” from the re-processors which would be a key indicator that the market has dropped and, to Cory’s knowledge, there has been no stockpiling of material at any of the processing sites it uses.

WE THEREFORE URGE ALL OUR RESIDENTS TO MINIMISE THEIR WASTE AND TO FOLLOW OUR RECYCLING GUIDANCE AS CLOSELY AS POSSIBLE IN ORDERTO KEEP CONTAMINATION LEVELS AT A MINIMUM.

Even though commodity prices may be dropping WRWA currently has an arrangement with Cory whereby the Authority pays an index-linked gate fee for recyclables, with a profit share mechanism above a threshold. Irrespective of recent events, commodity values have historically been notoriously volatile and the Authority, when setting its budgets, does not factor in any additional income from recycling. 

The Chinese Government announced in February 2017 that it would have a new focus on ‘industrial waste, e-waste, plastics and other solid waste smuggling illegal activities’. Then, in July 2017,  China notified the World Trade Organisation that it would ban imports of 24 categories of recyclables and waste by the end of 2017, as part of its Environmental campaign to reduce the amounts of “dirty waste and hazardous waste” that have been found mixed with the recycling material exported to China. Whilst the proposed ban applies to several plastic resins (including Polyethylene (PET), Polyethylene (PE), Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), Polystyrene (PS) and “other” plastics), textiles, and unsorted mixed paper there is still a great deal of uncertainty around the exact specification of what materials will, and will not, be banned.

Given that the industry has had good notice of these problems, it is reasonable to expect that most traders in recycling commodities will have begun to put in place mitigation measures and this could be an opportunity for other existing markets to expand or new ones appear.

The Authority will update this page as, and if, developments require it