The Global Recycling System Is In Meltdown Due To The China Ban. What Should We Do? | Valdamark Packaging

China’s National Sword Policy is making the west completely rethink the recycling of packaging.

Global Recycling

China’s National Sword Policy is making the west completely rethink the recycling of packaging. Or at least it should do as waste plastic packaging continues to explode.

Or at least it should do as waste plastic packaging continues to explode.

It has been over a year since China put a wrench in the worldwide recycling machine by essentially closing it doors to foreign recycling waste.

China was the recycling industries biggest market being able to buy up waste quantities of recyclable waste to process and turn a profit.

China’s National Sword Policy came into effect January 2018 putting a stop to most imports of plastic packaging and other waste materials.

Previously they had been processing the world’s recycling for in excess of 25 years. Now it is next to nothing!

The National Sword Policy was implemented in an effort to halt the epidemic of contaminated packaging materials making their way into China and its processing plants.

Over the years this became a huge environmental problem China creating landfills and ‘no go’ areas where contaminated waste was dumped.

Last year Chinese imports of waste reduced dramatically by 99% on the previous year. This has created a seismic global shift in where and how recyclable materials are processed.

The focus of the policy was of course on plastic packaging however there are other areas of concern. Take paper for example. China’s imports of this have reduced by a third.

Products like glass and laminated foil packaging products are mostly unaffected by the ban.


What Happened After the Launch of the National Sword Policy

The problem now is that these recyclable materials that were once destined for China are now ending up in landfills and energy intensive incinerators.

Costs associated with transporting and processing recyclable materials were on the rise before the new policy. Now post the China recycling ban we see the recycling of packaging is unprofitable for many companies.

The figures illustrate this. In the United Kingdom over half a million tones of plastic packaging & household waste was incinerated last year.

In Australia the recycling industry has gone into meltdown as the country struggles to adapt following the China recycling ban. The country now has a 1.3 million ton stockpile of recycling that would have been on its was to China.

In the United States local government has been desperately trying to find new markets willing to accept the recyclable waste and process it. Some communities have completely stopped collections which is leading to many just throwing the recyclable waste in the regular trash collection.

In Philadelphia many are now resorting to the burning of their bulk food packaging with many concerned about the air pollution that results.

Long-Term Effects Of China’s Ban on Recyclable Waste

The long term implications of the China’s National Sword Policy do not look good for the rest of the world. Even before only 9% of waste plastic packaging was being recycled. Another 12% was being sent to the incinerator.

The remainder was sent to landfills or depending on where you live dumped anywhere including our rivers and oceans.

Without China’s role in the international recycling supply chain the problems associated with our throw away, single use culture will be greatly exacerbated.

The planet is at breaking point! Over 8 billion tons of plastic packaging waste have been produced over the last 60 years. These are indestructible materials that will not biodegrade.

The only potential upside to the China ban is if it makes us rethink this export packaging waste question. We should be looking for far better solutions in order to manage the worlds waste problems. Processing facilities in the West need to be greatly expanded along we need comprehensive reform that encourages producers make packaging that is much easier to recycle.

In other words, we need to wake up!

China’s Complete Exit in 2021

Amidst changing market trends, the global recycled paper sector has experienced a notable shift in dynamics over the last few years. Since 2021, China's complete exit from the global recycled paper industry has left a sizable void in the market. As evidenced by the 3 million tonne uptick in demand for recovered paper usage in the US.

Other major regions have had to fill up that difference as well as build upon their respective contributions to global recovered paper (RCP) demand. Over this time period, other Asia's contribution grew by 2 million tonnes to 50 million tonnes. On the other hand, Western Europe's Paper for Recycling (PfR) use declined by 3 million tonnes to 48 million tonnes.

Reasons China banned RCP imports

China has been the world's top importer of recovered paper (RCP) for many years. So it came as a shock to the global recycling industry when they announced a ban on all imports back in 2017.

One of the reasons behind this sudden change is somehow related to environmental sustainability and others stemming from self-interest. Chiefly, China's leaders did not want their country to import other nations' waste products.

This move was in part an effort to appease public concern over environmental pollution within their own borders. They also saw it as an opportunity to encourage the local collection of recyclables, creating jobs and boosting domestic production in the process.

Lastly, they sought to prompt other countries into taking responsibility for managing their own scrap materials rather than relying on China as a dumping ground. As we consider the impact of the unlikely ban four years later it is clear that this strategy has achieved its desired results.

Other nations are stepping up domestically to consume what used to be exported to China thus restoring balance across the globe. Ultimately, this unexpected decision by Beijing has had a lasting effect on international recycling practices. It demonstrates that when governments take decisive actions, they can accomplish their objective in sustainability.

Projections for the Future

Looking towards 2025 however, projections suggest that both countries are on course for some remarkable growth. The U.S. will witness its recovered paper demand growing by 6 million tonnes from 2021 while China is expected to grow 8 million tonnes as well as 11 million tonnes and 3 million of PfR use in Europe respectively.

This growth undoubtedly stands as a testament. The packaging and recycling industries continue to increase their capacity and investment despite uncertainties caused by market disruption.

With these developing trends set to shape the industry’s future, companies are encouraged to keep abreast of transitory patterns and adapt accordingly. Keeping updated will help the companies create future-proof strategies that withstand these changing tides with confidence and perseverance.

Acknowledging this need is only the first step towards ensuring success. Plus, success largely depends on judicious implementation across multiple levels. Nonetheless, it is an exciting time ahead for companies as each development comes amplified with unforeseen possibilities waiting to be realised.

As each day brings forth new opportunities for collective growth, prudent planning allows ambitious enterprises to rise above the competition. Moreover, businesses should expect evolutionary transformation within global reclaimed paper industries in the coming years, as the result of China’s market exit in 2021.

With the exit of China from the recycling system, packaging manufacturers have to find a way to recycle and maintain sustainability.

Recycled Fibre

Recycled fibre can be an important component for producing tissue goods such as napkins, towels, and toilet paper. Unfortunately, the use of this material has been on the decline over recent years due to several factors.

Firstly, the decreased demand for printed materials leads to shrinkage in recovered office paper grades, thereby reducing the availability of recycled fibre. Secondly, a decrease in yield further limits its supply. Thirdly, increasing costs associated with processing and disposing of waste adds to its lack of viability.

Lastly, increased tropical pulp production owned by large paper producers is commonly used instead of recycled fibre due to its easy availability and lower costs. Consequently, it's essential that efficient recycling programmes are put into place in order to ensure adequate supplies for tissue production in the future.



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