By Swaliha Shanavas
China’s waste recycling sector has for many decades presented tremendous opportunities for businesses worldwide. But a few years back the Chinese authorities started to focus on the environment and brought in strict measures to curb or reduce to whatever extent possible the environmental impact caused due to the uncontrolled activities of various sectors including the waste recycling segment. And ever since the Green Fence was implemented in 2013, there has been a vast change in the industry as the quality of the material imported has improved and China continues to promote a more responsible and environmentally sustainable policy that is also brining in changes in the local waste recycling scenario. Further amendments in policy to further improve the sustainability aspects will be seen in the coming years.
Speaking at the BMR Conference recently held in Dubai, Ling Jiang, Director General, Solid Waste and Chemicals Management Center, Ministry of Environmental Protection, China, said the nation had already amended in 2015 certain policies related to waste imports, also indicating that in the coming years they will be bringing in further amendments in this area.
Present status and policies on industrial waste recycling
Touching upon the status of waste recycling industry in China Ling said, of the total amount of industrial waste generated in China, about 60% are used as raw materials. “Compared to the developed countries, China’s industrial waste recycling industry is still at the early developing stage. We compared the waste industry here with developed countries such as USA, Germany, Japan – the waste recycling and disposal industry output value in the environmental protection industry is 31% in the US, 66% in Germany and 67% in Japan. But in China it is only 20%. I think over the next few years, the waste recycling industry in China will see rapid progress.”
The generation of industrial waste is in direct correlation to economic growth and the annual average growth rate of industrial waste in China was 9.8% during 2005-2015, Ling noted. In 2015, the generation amount was 3.271 billion tonnes signifying a declining trend in the quantity generated, with coal, iron & steel and non-ferrous metal scrap exceeding 75% of the total generated industrial waste. Indicating the huge market potential of China’s recycling industry, he said there was a 2% increase in extraction of valuable resources and the total recovery of non-ferrous metals has gone up by 20-30%.
Strategic goal and roadmap 2020-30
They have two strategic goals as part of their roadmap for 2020-30, said the Director General. The first goal is that alongside the continuous progress of the industry and economy in China, the amount of industrial waste generated should remain stable or even reduce through source prevention, clean production and other measures. Secondly, he said they hoped “the recycling level of industrial waste in China would go higher and higher.” In short, the sector should try to increase the comprehensive use of industrial waste year on year, at the same time ensuring they meet the environmental requirements.
They intend to achieve these strategic goals in 3 different ways, said Ling. One is to optimise the industrial layout, with the resource processing industries converging in clusters of traditional resource industries, and by promoting the development of eco-industry parks that recycle industrial solid waste. “We encourage the waste recycling industry to move to the resource generation areas. For instance, we have 262 resource-based industrial cities, which the recycling industry could move to,” he stated.
The second approach is to make use of advanced technologies and equipment available in the industry, which of course, would be guided by technical norms and product standards,as well as research and development, and technical integration. A third route would be to promote the recycling industry by developing IT-based management system including on-line & off-line recycling service system; integrated management information system; facilitating inter-regional flow; and facilitating development of environmental service industry.
Imminent changes in policies on waste imports
Ling highlighted the impending changes in China’s policies on waste imports. Imported waste that can be used as raw material has been viewed as an important supplement for the domestic resources market in China. It could remarkably reduce energy consumption and discharge of pollutants in industries such as paper making, plastics, iron & steel and nonferrous metals, he said. “This has been trend of imported waste in China for the past 20 years. But following the financial crisis, since 2008, there has been a decrease in not only the amount of scrap imported into China, but also in the number of facilities importing this material.”
A major part of the waste imports are now concentrated in the coastal areas such as Guangdong Province, Zhejiang Province and Jiangsu Province, with recovered paper, scrap plastics and mixed scrap metals being the three main categories imported, said Ling, adding that the import of recyclable waste in 2016 is 1.1 times of that in 2005 and the import value is 1.2 times of that of 2005; while the amount of such enterprises is 43% of those that were present in 2005.
The import of recovered paper went up from less than 10 million ton in 2003 to about 28 million ton in 2016, while the number of recovered paper import enterprises went down from 660 in 2006 to 170 in 2016, indicating continuous expansion of the scale of recovered paper importers, the Director General noted. The same was the case with scrap plastics, where the import figures went up from about 3 million tonnes in 2003 to more than 7 million tonnes in 2016; whereas the number of scrap plastic importers went down from 1600 in 2009 to 1100 in 2016, indicating a gradual phasing out of small enterprises, he commented. As for import of mixed scrap metals, it has decreased from 7.75 million tonnes in 2007 to 5.34 million tonnes in 2016 mostly due to the impact of the metal market, he said. The number of mixed metals scrap importers is said to have gone down from 550 in 2011 to 375 in 2016.
China has, after 2105 amended the Law on Prevention and Control of Environmental Pollution by Solid Waste and cancelled the review and approval of Automatic License for Import of Solid Waste said Ling, also noting that The Regulations on Environmental Management of Restricted Import Solid Waste as Raw Materials have been released.
He said, very soon the government will raise access requirements with the amendment of the Measures on Environmental Management of Import of Solid Waste, strictly review and approve the license, raise industrial access and make more strict environmental control standard for imported waste. Moreover, he said the government will also strengthen environmental supervision capacity at grass-root level and strictly investigate and punish any violations such as illegal processing and use of imported waste that cause environmental pollution and enhance overall management by encouraging waste importing enterprises in China to put in more efforts in recycling of domestic renewable resources and improve resource efficiency.
“Quality control is very essential for the developing countries – not only China but nations such as India, Indonesia and so on. In China we have strictly banned municipal waste imports. Only waste that can be used as raw materials can be imported. China is the first country in the world that created the import standards for waste. In 1996, China issued the first version of the waste import standards, which was amended in 2005,” said a delegate from the Ministry of Environment, China. “Now, we are in the process of drafting a new standard – we wish to make the criteria stricter, especially for the mixed waste that comes into China. The key factor is to see how we can control the legal and illegal waste entering the nation. We intend to ban illegal waste and use the recyclables in the right manner. The exporter and importer must also work together to ensure the material qualifies as recyclables,” he commented.