The China Waste Ban: Be Part of the Solution


The mid-July headline from Reuters read, “China says it won’t take any more foreign garbage.” China informed the World Trade Organization (WTO) that it would not be accepting any more imported waste such as plastics, paper, slag from steelmaking, ash, etc. In its filing with the WTO, China said, “We found that large amounts of dirty wastes or even hazardous wastes are mixed in the solid waste that can be used as raw materials. This polluted China’s environment seriously.”

Last week, SWANA filed a written response with the WTO saying in part, It is simply not possible to modify quickly or halt the thousands of recycling programs in the United States that will be impacted by the Notification. Successful recycling programs require consistency in service, and once started, should not be ‘turned off.’ New York City’s experience proves this point: in 2003, the glass and plastics portion of its municipal recycling program was discontinued as part of citywide budget cuts, and the diversion rate plunged from 20% to 11%. Although those portions of its recycling program were restored a few years later, the diversion rate has still not recovered to the level achieved prior to 2003.

Local recycling programs, whether at curbside or via a drop-off center, and whether dual stream or single stream, are a core part of solid waste systems developed over the past three decades, and are embedded in the fabric of thousands of communities throughout the United States. Recycling programs throughout North America have suffered from China’s Operation Green Fence in 2013 and from its recent National Sword initiative. SWANA is concerned that many recycling programs in the United States and Canada would be unable to recover from China’s proposed ban on importing recyclables and the disruption it would cause by closing a significant outlet for paper and plastics.

It is not feasible to expect new domestic recycling facilities to be permitted, constructed, and start operations in the United States or Canada, or for existing facilities to be significantly expanded, in the few months before the Notification takes effect. If implementation of the Notification blocks the export of recyclables to China, much of these materials, including waste paper, plastic, and other useful resources, will likely be disposed in landfills and waste-to-energy facilities in North America, and indeed, around the globe. This will greatly diminish public confidence, participation and support of local recycling programs, and undermine successful environmental programs in the United States, Canada, and throughout the world.”

So what do we do?

On September 19th, MSW Management and Forester University will be hosting a free webinar presented in a panel discussion format. The overall tenor of the discussion will be collegial rather than adversarial, exploring the likely impacts of the overseas waste ban, potential opportunities, and how we can turn the overseas waste ban into a productive situation for all parties impacted.

We have a distinguished panel that includes David Biderman, president and CEO of SWANA, Robin Wiener, president of the International Scrap and Recycling Institute, Zoe Heller, policy director at Cal Recycle, Constance Hornig, MSW contracts attorney, and Chaz Miller, policy director at the National Waste & Recycling Organization.

Click here to register for the free webinar. Let’s find the solutions together. MSW_bug_web

  • Jeff Creque.

    China has clearly determined that accepting foreign trash is leading to degradation of the country’s environment. In short, “recycling” of this imported waste is not an environmental benefit for the planet, and in fact, not recycling at all. It is time we acknowledge that many of the products of our industrial economy should not be manufactured in the first place, unless and until there exists a technology for their safe recovery, reuse and actual recycling. With plastic now present in most of the world’s drinking water and choking our oceans, it is long past time to reconsider what we are doing to ourselves and our planet. Good on China for refusing to continue to support the illusion of plastics recycling.

  • Daniel Dempsey.

    Indeed, “Good on China,” and ongoing shame and disgrace on the United States of America, it’s pathetic, spineless political “leadership,” and our country’s culturally moral and environmental turpitude. Considering the human waste that occupies DC these days, and has for the past three decades, it was only a matter of time until our own self-delusions of self-importance and self-absorption caught up with this population of selfish, mindless consumerism and the waste it generates. I’ve worked on this issue for years in the field, in communities, and in the classroom. None of it has or will change until we’re all swimming in the stench and rot of our own excess. Meanwhile, the elite will consider that in their smart homes and gated compounds they’ll be immune from the decay surrounding them until they, at last, have no one to cheat or lie to except themselves. Simply disgusting how such a once great culture rose to great democratic, heights only to descend beyond redemption; all because of our effete distractions with fame, fortune, and leisure. Just as Leslie Nielsen’s Creep Show character exclaimed, let’s hope the American people can “hold their breath for a long time!”

    • Francisco Javier Briseno.

      So, why are you so nice in your description? The situation is far worse than the eye can see, it is dire. One hundred and fifty or so years ago, we did not know that germs existed, nor resistant bacteria. America is great because it is great in wastefulness, and that is what it makes it great, and that is the reason they want to tear us down. The love for the greed of money is the root of all evil and not cleanliness. I wish you had put in some explicits in your comment to give it the emphasis and importance that it has. Me personally, I loved it and could not say it more eloquently.

  • Linda Gaines.

    The paper is better off in WTE, but serious effort should be made to capture the plastics.


Leave a Reply

Enter Your Log In Credentials