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How China’s Recycling Bans impact world recycling industry?

Updated: May 31, 2019



Until March 2018, at least half of the world's recycled materials were exported to China for processing because it was cheaper than processing them in other country. You can see from photo above there is job called rubbish collector they will separate all rubbish to valuable asset and sell it factory produce goods to supply globe demand. As of 2016, China was importing and processing 40M tons of scrap material from around the world. Then in 2017, they started rolling out policies to drastically restrict waste imports as a way to decrease the pollution in their country, improve their own domestic recycling, and increase manufacturing and production efforts beyond the waste industry.

Regulations have trickled in over the past several years, and now the world is feeling the effects in a massive way. To recap, here are the milestone recycling regulations that China has rolled out since 2017:


February 2017 Announcement: China announces National Sword: a campaign to cut down on waste smuggling by tightening supervision at ports, rejecting certain materials process, and continuing to crack down on smuggling. Rollout was slated to start in September of 2017.

July 2017 Announcement: More details of National Sword are released, focusing on import quality, specifically contamination restrictions and a ban on 24 categories of waste imports including mixed paper and mixed plastics. Rollout was slated to start by the end of 2017.

March 2018 Rollout: China increases contamination restrictions on permitted materials including scrap metals, wood, OCC, and more. Their contamination allowance was cut by more than half, from 1.5% to 0.5% (up from the 0.3% initially proposed in July).

Prompted by increasing contamination and waste smuggling, China rolls out the Blue Sky 2018 initiative. The China Scrap Plastics Association called it a “further development of Green Fence and National Sword.”

April 2018 Announcement: China releases a list of 32 material waste imports that they will ban by the end of 2019. Material bans are slated to take effect in two phases — first, in December 2018, then in December 2019.

July 2018 Announcement: China proposes a total import ban on recovered fibre and other solid waste.

December 31, 2018 Rollout: Import ban rolls out for the first 16 materials, including post-industrial plastics (PE, PET, PS, PVC) and scrap metals. Compared to 2017, imports of scrap paper to China fall by 44.6%. Scrap plastic imports fell by 94.4% compared to the previous month.

December 31, 2019 Rollout: China's ban takes affect for final the 16 materials including some forms of stainless steel scrap and wood waste.

What's happening to our recyclables now?

With nowhere to ship all of this recycling waste, issues with the UK waste stream are now amplified.



MRFs (Material Recovery Facilities) are the companies that collect curbside recyclables for sorting, cleaning, and processing. Recycling has turned into an urgent predicament, one that these privately owned MRFs are left to figure out on their own. Since they can no longer ship most of the processed materials to China, they're running out of space and with more work load on their machinery MRFs are now sending more contaminated recyclables to landfills.

In UK, larger companies like Waste Management are investing millions of pounds to upgrade their infrastructure to meet demand, but many programs can't afford to scale. For example, MRFs be able to recycle all PET bottles because they are easy to shed and sell it on globe market but they don’t accept the soft plastic film and very often those type of plastic ending in landfill.


How can we improve recycling?

To start, companies can take more responsibility for the materials they're using and the resources they require from the planet. Using more recycled materials in packaging is a great first step; for example dispatch bags, check our website: www.srmailing.co.uk for information of 100% recycled mailing bags; and when it's time for customers to recycle their packaging, they need the proper information to recycle it.


Consumers can follow the first rule of "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle," and start by being very mindful about purchases so that recycling is the last option after reduction and reuse.

At a time when there's a quickly shrinking market for exporting UK’s recyclables and little infrastructure to process them, it's more important than ever that every part of the supply chain is optimized for materials' reuse before they even get to the bin.

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