China to Allow PET Scrap Bottle Imports12 Nov 2009 • by Natalie Aster
The Chinese government is apparently edging closer to ending a ban on direct imports of whole PET scrap bottles, a move being watched in recycling circles around the world because it may mean more recycled PET exports to China and potentially less available elsewhere.
An official with China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection told a plastics conference in China Nov. 6 that the government is moving ahead with plans to draft detailed regulations ending the ban and allowing direct imports of at least some whole scrap bottles, under a licensing system.
Details remain unclear, and experts cautioned that uneven enforcement of current rules makes it tricky to predict the real world impact of any legal change.
But given China’s voracious appetite for recycled materials — it now buys more than half the PET bottles collected in the United States — the issue is being watched closely, according to American and Chinese recycling industry officials attending the China Replas 2009 conference, held Nov. 5-7 in Hangzhou.
Currently waste PET bottles must be shredded or flaked to be allowed into China legally, and removing that requirement could make it cheaper for China to bring in bottles and increase imports, or mean that the U.S. PET recyclers could have to pay more for material, said Patricia Moore, executive director of the Plastic Recycling Corp. of California in Sonoma.
“The concern in the U.S. is that if they can do this [import whole bottles], it will take costs out of the system so the Chinese can pay more,” she said, speaking in a Nov. 7 interview at the conference.
It could also further tighten supplies in the United States at a time when Coca Cola and other big companies are investing in PET recycling capacity in North America.
Kathy Xuan, president of North Aurora, Ill.-based recycler PARC Corp., agreed the changes could lead to more PET imported to China. PARC also has operations in China.
But there are other complications that could make it tough to gauge the real world impact.
Some whole scrap bottles do get imported to China now, in violation of current regulations. They often initially enter through the port of Hong Kong, where they are legal to import, and then are divided into smaller loads and brought into mainland China through the country’s somewhat porous port system, some conference attendees said.
It’s not known how many loads of whole bottles enter indirectly now, and how many more could come in, but some attendees described as a “open secret” that ports in South China are looser than elsewhere in China.
It’s a point the Chinese authorities seemed to acknowledge, when they said at the conference that they were going to crack down on waste plastic coming into ports in Guangdong province, neighboring Hong Kong.
Ports there that don’t have proper conditions for inspecting waste plastic will not be allowed to import the materials, an official with China’s General Administration of Customs told the conference, which is organized by Plastics Recycling Committee of the China Plastics Processing Industry Association.
The government is sometimes suspicious of plastic waste that enters one port in Guangdong, while its shipping information says it is bound for a factory much closer to another port and the material could have gone through the closer port, the official said.
“In Guangdong province, it will have a big impact,” the official said.
The MEP official said the government is still in the process of drafting rules on importing whole PET bottles, and for now, is not accepting any applications from companies to get a license to do that.
The government is also preparing rules to allow import of more compact disc scrap, the official said.
China’s government is balancing several competing goals with its recycling policies.
It wants to allow imports of recyclable materials to meet China’s appetite for raw materials, but it also wants to protect workers and the domestic Chinese environment, according to an official with China’s National Center of Solid Waste Management, of the Ministry of Environmental Protection.
In September, for example, three workers at a Zhejiang province plastics recycling plant died after working with a chemically contaminated load of plastic packaging scrap.
The material in that case may have come from domestic sources, and government officials at the conference said they are concerned about local Chinese supplies.
Moore, from California’s PRCC, suggested the changes could have one positive impact on the U.S. market, if it allows more direct communication between sellers of plastic scrap in America and buyers in mainland China.
Now the material has to pass through many intermediate companies, making it hard to establish a connection between material quality in America and the price ultimately paid in China, she said. There is really no price difference between good and poor quality bales, she said.
Source: PLASTICS NEWS STAFF
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