China’s waste import ban upends global recycling industry

Police officers checking on illegally imported waste during a raid in Dalian in China's northeastern Liaoning province. For years China was the world's top destination for recyclable trash, but a ban on certain imports has left nations scrambling to find new dumping grounds for growing piles of garbage. (AFP)
Updated 21 January 2018
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China’s waste import ban upends global recycling industry

BEIJING: For years China was the world’s top destination for recyclable trash, but a ban on certain imports has left nations scrambling to find new dumping grounds for growing piles of garbage.
The decision was announced in July and came into force on Jan. 1, giving companies from Europe to the US barely six months to look for other options, and forcing some to store rubbish in parking lots.
In China, some recycling companies have had to lay off staff or shut down because of the lost business.
The ban bars imports of 24 categories of solid waste, including certain types of plastics, paper and textiles.
“Large amounts of dirty ... or even hazardous wastes are mixed in the solid waste that can be used as raw materials. This polluted China’s environment seriously,” the environment ministry explained in a notice to the World Trade Organization.
In 2015 alone, the Asian giant bought 49.6 million tons of rubbish, according to the latest government figures.
The EU exports half of its collected and sorted plastics, 85 percent of which goes to China. Ireland alone exported 95 percent of its plastic waste to China in 2016.
That same year, the US shipped more than 16 million tons of scrap commodities to China worth more than $5.2 billion.
The ban has been like an “earthquake” for countries dependent on China, said Arnaud Brunet, head of the Bureau of International Recycling.
“It has put our industry under stress since China is simply the largest market in the world” for recycled materials, he told AFP, noting that he expected exports of certain materials to tank by 40 percent or more.
Global plastic exports to China could sink from 7.4 million tons in 2016 to 1.5 million tons in 2018, while paper exports might tumble nearly a quarter, according to Brunet’s estimate.
The decrease will be partly due to a fall in the threshold of impurities China is willing to accept per ton of waste — higher standards that most countries currently cannot meet.
Some are now looking at emerging markets elsewhere such as India, Pakistan or Southeast Asia, but it could be more expensive than shipping waste to China.
Sending recyclables to China is cheaper because they are placed on ships that would “otherwise be empty” when they return to the Asian country after delivering consumer goods in Europe, said Simon Ellin, CEO of the Britain-based Recycling Association.
Brunet also warned that many alternate countries may not yet be up to the task of filling China’s enormous shoes, since “processing capacity doesn’t develop overnight.”
The ban risks causing a “catastrophic” environmental problem as backlogs of recyclable waste are instead incinerated or dumped in landfills with other refuse.
In the US, collectors of recyclables are already reporting “significant stockpiles” of materials, said Adina Renee Adler, senior director of international relations at the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries.
“Some municipalities have announced that they will either not take certain materials or direct them to landfills,” she said.
Brandon Wright, a spokesman for the US National Waste and Recycling Association, told AFP that some facilities were storing inventory outside or in parking lots.
The ban has also created challenges for Chinese companies dependent on foreign waste.
“It will be very hard to do business,” said Zhang Jinglian, owner of the Huizhou Qinchun plastic recycling company in southern Guangdong province.
More than half their plastics were imported, and as prices for such raw materials go up, production will be reduced by at least a third, he said. He had already let go a dozen employees.
Others, such as Nantong Heju Plastic Recycling in coastal Jiangsu province, will “no longer do business” at all, a representative said.
But at the same time, the ban could jolt China into improving its own patchy recycling systems, allowing it to reuse more local materials, said Greenpeace plastics expert Liu Hua.
“In China at the moment, there isn’t a complete, legal and regulated recycling system in place,” he said, with even big cities such as Beijing reliant on illegal scavengers.
“When there aren’t resources coming from abroad, there’s a greater likelihood of us improving our own internal recycling.”
In Europe, the ban could also have the positive effect of prompting countries to focus on developing domestic recycling industries, said Jean-Marc Boursier, president of the European Federation of Waste Management and Environmental Services.
“The Chinese decision forces us to ask ourselves whether we wouldn’t be interested in making processing plants in Europe so as to export products rather than waste,” he said.
On Tuesday, the EU unveiled plans to phase out single-use plastics such as coffee cups and make all plastic packaging recyclable by 2030.
— AFP


Oil prices rise on signs Iranian oil exports are falling further

Updated 16 October 2018
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Oil prices rise on signs Iranian oil exports are falling further

SEOUL: Oil prices dipped on Tuesday amid expectations of an increase in US crude inventories, but signs of a fall in Iranian oil exports this month kept losses in check.
International benchmark Brent crude for December delivery had fallen 6 cents, or 0.07 percent, to $80.72 per barrel by 0654 GMT.
US West Texas Intermediate crude for November delivery was down 14 cents at $71.64 a barrel.
US crude stockpiles were forecast to have risen last week for the fourth straight week, by about 1.1 million barrels, according to a Reuters poll ahead of reports from the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the US Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA).
The API’s data is due at 4:30pm EDT on Tuesday, and the EIA report will be released at 10:30am EDT on Wednesday.
“Uncertainties will remain until Nov. 4 when it would be clear whether the United States would want to cut Iran oil exports to zero or grant waivers,” said Vincent Hwang, commodity analyst at NH Investment & Securities in Seoul.
“Brent prices are likely stay in the range of $80 a barrel or slightly higher, while WTI prices are likely to be $70-$75 a barrel,” Hwang added.
In the first two week of October, Iran exported 1.33 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude to countries including India, China and Turkey, according to Refinitiv Eikon data. That was down from 1.6 million bpd during the same period in September.
The October exports are a sharp drop from the 2.5 million bpd in April US before US President Donald Trump withdrew from a multilateral nuclear deal with Iran in May and ordered the re-imposition of economic sanctions on the country, the data showed.
The sanctions will come into force on November 4. The US special envoy for Iran said on Monday that the US is still aiming to cut Iran’s oil sales to zero.
Meanwhile, OPEC Secretary General Mohammad Barkindo said on Tuesday that global spare oil capacity was shrinking, adding that producers and companies should increase their production capacities and invest more to meet current demand.
With the world’s only sizable spare oil output capacity, Saudi Arabia is expected to export more to offset the loss of Iranian oil supply from the sanctions.
Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih said on Monday at a conference in New Delhi that the kingdom is committed to meeting India’s rising oil demand and is the “shock absorber” for supply disruptions in the oil market.