Britain, a major waste exporter, has been shipping about half a million
tons of plastic to China every year. That ended this year. In a measure
that took effect on December 31, China banned imports of 24 types of
solid waste including waste plastics, unsorted scrap paper, discarded
textiles and vanadium slag. China will also ban imports of solid waste
that can be replaced by domestic resources by the end of 2019.
The move dealt a blow to foreign waste exporters. Britain has relied
heavily on China for relocation of its waste and pollution as the
country lacks sufficient recycling and waste processing facilities of
its own. The ban will likely lead to the stockpiling of plastic waste
and mean more incineration and landfill, posing harm to its environment.
For the US, another mass trash exporter that sent about $5.2 billion
worth of scrap metal, paper and plastic to China in 2016, the ban will
affect the US-based multi-billion-dollar recycling industry and result
in losses of tens of thousands of jobs and the closure of many
businesses in the country.
Despite having gained remarkable momentum in its economic development,
China has paid a heavy price through environmental degradation and
health problems posed by the improper recycling of imported waste which
is often dirty, poorly sorted or contaminated with hazardous substances.
Some companies in and outside China have also smuggled foreign waste of
no recycling value for profit, creating environmental and public health
China’s economy has been transitioning from rapid growth to high-quality
development and pursuing modernization characterized by harmonious
coexistence between human beings and nature. Against this backdrop, the
country has ramped up efforts to stop being a dumping ground for solid
waste and make the Chinese economy more environmentally-friendly.
As waste recycling is profitable and China suffers from a supervision
and regulation deficit, relevant authorities should work together to
gradually reduce the categories and amounts of solid waste arriving from
foreign shores. Laws, regulations and related systems need to be
improved to crack down on the smuggling, purchasing, reselling and
illegal processing of imported waste to ensure that all violators
involved are held accountable.
China’s domestic recycling industry should upgrade its technology and
standards. On the one hand, China should raise its safe recycling rate
to recycle more of its own waste. On the other, the waste recycling
sector needs to use more primary raw materials to replace foreign
International cooperation should be given high priority to address waste
collection and distribution. Some Western powers need to abandon their
beggar-thy-neighbor mentality and stop passing the buck by taking
advantage of often-lax environmental oversight in developing countries
in the name of boosting business ties with them.
With state-of-the-art technology and rich experience in processing solid
waste, major developed powers should take more responsibility in this
regard and ratchet up joint studies with developing nations on some
thorny issues plaguing the recyclable waste field, such as how to deal
with the toxic chemicals and heavy metals of electronic waste, how to
mitigate the negative impacts of nuclear waste on the environment and
public health and how to develop more advanced technologies and
facilities into a coherent plan for the recycling industry.