The United Kingdom, United States, Japan, Australia and other western countries were faced with growing piles of recyclables and no place to put them. Similar buildups have been reported in Canada, Ireland, Germany and several other European nations, while tons of rubbish is piling up in port cities like Hong Kong.
This is a result of China’s ban on foreign waste. For many years, these countries have relied on China to process and reuse waste products like plastic, textiles, and mixed papers. China had been processing at least half of the world’s exports of waste paper, metals and used plastic – 7.3 million tons in 2016, according to recent industry date.
Plastic waste is particularly lucrative. In 2016 alone, Chinese manufacturers imported 7.3 million metric tons of recovered plastic from the US – waste is the sixth-largest US export to China – and other countries. Once in China, bales of plastic waste are trucked off to reprocessing facilities and turned into pellets for manufacturing. China has accepted the materials to make new products like bins or other items.
Last year, China announced that from January 1 it would no longer import certain waste products from overseas due to contamination concerns. The ban extends to various recyclables including several plastics such as PET and PVC, certain textiles and mixed waste paper. Also in April, China banned another 32 types of solid waste – including stainless steel scraps, compressed car scraps and ship scraps. Sixteen of them will go into effect at the end of this year, and the other half at the end of 2019.
The sudden move has left Western countries scrambling to deal with a buildup of plastic and paper garbage while looking for new markets for the waste, hoping to export waste to countries like Indonesia, India, Vietnam, Malaysia, or anywhere they can.