Why has China stopped accepting plastic waste for recycling?
For many years, China was the largest market for the world’s waste plastic. Around 50% of all the plastic that Westerners dumped into plastic recycling bins, eventually wound up at Chinese plastic processors, ready for distribution to manufacturers around the country.
That all changed, however, when China introduced its National Sword policy, banning the import of recycled plastics from overseas.
Why China Stopped Accepting Plastic Waste From Abroad
The decision to ban recycled plastics appears to have been entirely environmental. As China becomes wealthier, the environment is becoming more of a concern, and the government is looking for easy ways to alleviate the problem. For years, China had accepted much of the world’s plastic waste and dealt with all of the issues that came with it. But in 2018, the country decided that it had had enough of poor quality recycled plastic imports and put a stop to it. The material entering the country was just too polluted with dirt and contaminants to process safely, creating enormous environmental problems for the country.
Since the ban, the results have been dramatic. Imports of recycled plastic have fallen by more than 99 per cent, and there are restrictions on other recyclables too, like glass.
The change in policy has had repercussions around the world and has altered where plastic recycling goes. China was the biggest market for recycled plastic, but with the new ban in place, there’s a desperate search for new countries willing to take plastic recycling products.
Right now, the worry is that too much plastic is entering landfill, the oceans or being incinerated. If China’s ban remains in place, industry experts predict that the rest of the world will not be able to absorb all of the plastic recycling and that more plastic will end up in places that it is not wanted. Already we’re seeing plastic recycling efforts being curtailed in Western markets simply because there aren’t enough users of it outside of China.
How Plastic Expert Is Helping To Reduce The Impact Of The Ban
At Plastic Expert, we’ve been keeping a close eye on political developments in China. Our goal is to reduce plastic waste wherever possible and cut down on our carbon footprint. Our advantage is that we process plastic in the UK - we don’t rely on Chinese processors. Our facilities can recycle a wide variety of plastic products without the need for exporting waste overseas.
Data suggest that more than 95 per cent of plastics collected for recycling in Europe and 70 per cent in the US went to China for processing. These plastics were then transformed into a variety of products by manufacturers. China, however, reacted to changes in policy in many western countries which changed recycling from using multiple bins to a single stream. Higher levels of contamination and different types of plastic made it more difficult to recycle, contributing to the ban.
The solution, at least in the short term, is for processors, like Plastic Expert, to take up the slack and provide processing services for manufacturers in the rest of the world.