In the past, countries around the world have relied on China to deal with plastics waste because of their wealth of labor that can turn scrap plastic into profitable plastic. In July of 2017, China announced several policy changes regarding major restrictions on recycled imports. The policy was quickly enforced starting in January of 2018. This left many countries scrambling for alternative solutions to deal with their recycled materials.
In July, China announced that they would ban the importation of certain types of solid waste (24 and counting). They are setting a strict limitation of 0.5% contamination allowed on recycled materials. China is also banning the accepting low-quality recyclables such as plastic bottles. They also refuse to accept materials that are contaminated or not properly sorted. They are also reducing the number of import licenses, so fewer businesses have the opportunity to import waste.
Why the Policy is needed for China
China has been the largest importer of solid waste for many years. Before the national sword was put in place it was easy for countries to send over there waste. Over the years, China slowly began to realize the effect that these imports have had on their country. The worsening environmental conditions have become a big worry for the Chinese government, causing them to re-evaluate their recycling industry. These conditions started to affect their air, water, and soil which began to threaten many lives. The imports of plastics have been a core reason behind this pollution. The Chinese government decided to act for the people of their county, thus the announcement of the National Sword.
Trends in International Recycling Industry
- Plastic Imports have since dropped 99%
- Mixed Paper imports have decreased by a 1/3
- 9% of plastics are being recycled now
- 12% of plastics are being incinerated
- The remaining plastics ended up in a Landfill or littering the earth
The Effects felt by North America
Canada and the United States are two of many countries feeling the effects of the National Sword. Recyclables are starting to pile up, as neither country was prepared for the policy. This ban has caused a significant jam in the international recycling system. Recycled material is now ending up in landfills, littering the earth, or being incinerated; none of which is good for our environment. Some states are even halting recycling programs, unable to keep up with all the recycled materials being collected. North America is trying to determine strategies for dealing with this material. The entire continent is finding it hard to have recycled material that doesn’t exceed the 0.5 % contamination rate. The hope is that one day soon, the country will be able to find an efficient and effective way to handle our recyclables.
The Effects felt by China
China’s supply of recycled material is slowing down, which was expected. This, however, has affected the production of materials, that had certain types of recycled content. This has made the prices of the material very inconsistent, as they do not have a steady supply, meaning when they suffer a shortage they have to charge more. The policy is still in the beginning stages while China continues to ensure the most efficient and effective solution.
After all the negative effects that countries have felt from the National Sword, some might find it hard to believe that there is an upside. However, there is hope that this ban can help our environment! It is hard to know if it will actually cause changes because the policy is still fresh, but there is always a possibility. Some things that we can hope will come of this policy are:
- Better waste management within countries, so that there isn’t a need to transport so many recyclables
- Expanding the processing efforts (within Canada and the United States)
- Manufacturers making products easier to recycle taking end-of-life into consideration
Although the process cannot be completed overnight, large changes like these could leave a major impact on our environment. That is why the National Sword is important, and arguably necessary for the life of our planet.