Print Posted By Diya Selva on 01/16/2018 in Economy

What does China’s recycling ban mean for the rest of the world?

What does China’s recycling ban mean for the rest of the world?

Only last year, many developed economies were shipping thousands of bales of recyclables, including plastic and PET bottles, away to China as part of their long running waste disposal arrangement with the manufacturing superpower . China was making use of the recyclables as additions to the raw materials used in its many industries.

Now, in a major twist of events, the deal is off. In July 2017, China announced a ban on the importation of foreign recyclables into its borders, to get into effect January 1 2018. A filing with the World Trade Organization by China made public the country’s intention to ban up to 24 types of ‘foreign waste’, including most plastics by 2018. Now that the effects of the ban are already being felt within major borders. Reports from the UK and the US show that recyclables are piling up at waste collection centres in both countries, at a rate unseen before. Despite having knowledge of the impending ban since last year, some waste collection centre managers were not yet prepared for the piles of waste they are seeing now. In fact, some don’t have an immediate solution to the crisis.

Waste exporters are doomed! So where do we go from here?

China provided the largest market for these recyclables, courtesy of its vibrant manufacturing industry. In 2016, the country imported over 7.3 million tonnes of waste plastics from countries including the UK, the US and Japan alone. This development leaves a wide supply deficit that no other country can fill for now. Should waste exporting countries be worried? Analysts think so. Most are forewarning that China’s decision is likely to disrupt the recycling industry for the better, if not for worse.

The development is bound to affect both parties at some point, but experts predict that China is likely to get the better end of the deal in the long run. For starters, the country has already created an alternative kind of plastic for its industries to fill the gap. It also intends to put its own internal waste to use through recycling, something it wasn’t doing before. Some experts believe that this development is the first step towards China’s planned environmental protection campaign, which couldn’t come any sooner considering the amount of pollution China releases into the environment everyday.

But how is the recycling ban going to affect the rest of the world?

The irony is that the environment elsewhere around the world is likely to suffer most from China’s recycling ban. Countries with high piles of waste and no market for them are likely to be forced to consider alternative methods of waste disposal such as landfilling, burning or even disposal into waterbodies. All these alternatives pollute the air, soil and water around in the long run. Even alternatives such as exporting the waste to third world countries around the world is going to have a similar effect on the environment.

Through the export of recyclable waste, many countries developed a steady source of income over the years. Analysts estimate the US’s recyclable waste exports to have been worth over $495m last year alone. These countries are now facing the stark reality that managing and exporting waste will no longer be as valuable. In the US, municipal councils are now being forced to consider municipal waste recycling, who is considerably less cost effective.

On the other hand, this situation might be an eye opener of sorts for many developed nations. Most have the resources and ability to build their own recycling plants, so it's just about time they made construction plans. Experts have predicted that countries such as the US will start considering incineration as a source of energy more, now that they have gigantic piles of waste and nowhere to send them.

The affected countries also have the option of minimizing the waste they produce over time. They could pick a leaf from the UK’s four point waste management programme that employs minimisation strategies at each stage of the waste generation cycle.

For now, China’s recycling ban has created a crisis. But it won't be for long.

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