China’s ban on ‘foreign garbage’

Imported laptop housings, Guiyu, China. Basel Action Network, CC BY-ND

Will China’s crackdown on ‘foreign garbage’ force wealthy countries to recycle more of their own waste?

With holidays approaching, many of us are mindful of the need to collect and recycle all the additional plastic, paper and other waste that we are about to generate. This year, however, there are questions about where that waste will end up. China, the world’s largest importer of scrap, is looking to clean up its act.

In July 2017 China, which is by far the world’s largest importer and recycler of scrap metals, plastic and paper, notified the World Trade Organization that it planned to effectively ban imports of 24 types of scrap, which its environment ministry called “foreign garbage,” by the end of the year. Immediately, organizations such as the U.S.-based Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries and the Bureau of International Recycling warned that China’s action would cause job losses, shut down many U.S. recycling facilities and send more waste to landfills…