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China aims for zero waste imports

April 8, 2019

The nation’s Environment Ministry has revealed that the country is planning to cut imports of solid waste to zero by 2020, as it attempts to reduce pollution.

According to Reuters, the country is also aiming to encourage recyclers to tackle the “soaring volumes” of domestic waste.

For almost the last four decades, China has welcomed hundreds of millions of tonnes of waste from abroad, including e-waste, plastic, paper, and scrap metal, to be recycled by what Reuters terms “an army of backyard workshops.”

However, the nation introduced new restrictions on imports last year, which had a knock-on effect around the world as countries struggled to process the volumes of waste they were left with. Furthermore, Chinese customs authorities made hundreds of arrests during a crackdown on illicit waste smuggling. Now, the net is set to tighten even further.

 “China will further tighten restrictions of waste imports and eventually aims to realise zero waste imports by 2020,” said Qiu Qiwen, Director of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment’s solid waste division. Last year, the country imported 22.6 million tonnes of solid waste, a 47 percent reduction from 2017, according to the Ministry.

Last December, Beijing also pledged to outlaw imports of further varieties of scrap metal, including steel, copper, and aluminium, from July onwards, with a further veto on scrap stainless steel and titanium to follow at the end of 2019.

Qiu explained that products not included on the current banned list would also be restricted by next year, although high-quality material would not be forbidden: “If the solid waste [] meets the requirements of China’s import standards and doesn’t contain any hazards, then it can be treated as common commodities, not waste.”

The build-up of waste is fast-becoming one of the superpower’s toughest challenges environmentally, with China facing a solid waste treatment backlog of roughly 60-70 billion tonnes according to Reuters, causing increasing pressure to boost its recycling capabilities.

A “Waste-Free Cities” scheme has already launched, while Beijing is also seeking to build hundreds of new “comprehensive recycling bases” across the country; however, complaints over the real hurdles to profitable business – unsuitable infrastructure and poor waste treatment habits – remain unaddressed.

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