For years China was the world's top destination for recyclable trash, but a ban on certain imports has left nations scrambling to find new dumping grounds for growing piles of garbage. The decision was announced in July and came into force on Jan. 1, giving companies from Europe to the U.S. barely six months to look for other options, and forcing some to store rubbish in parking lots. In China, some recycling companies have had to lay off staff or shut down due to the lost business. The ban bars imports of 24 categories of solid waste, including certain types of plastics, paper, and textiles.
"Large amounts of dirty... or even hazardous wastes are mixed in the solid waste that can be used as raw materials. This polluted China's environment seriously," the environment ministry explained in a notice to the World Trade Organization. In 2015 alone, the Asian giant bought 49.6 million tons of rubbish, according to the latest government figures. The European Union exports half of its collected and sorted plastics, 85 percent of which goes to China. Ireland alone exported 95 percent of its plastic waste to China in 2016. That same year, the U.S. shipped more than 16 million tons of scrap commodities to China worth more than $5.2 billion. The ban has been like an "earthquake" for countries dependent on China, said Arnaud Brunet, head of the Bureau of International Recycling.
"It has put our industry under stress since China is simply the largest market in the world" for recycled materials, he told AFP, noting that he expected exports of certain materials to tank by 40 percent or more. Global plastic exports to China could sink from 7.4 million tons in 2016 to 1.5 million tons in 2018, while paper exports might tumble nearly a quarter, according to Brunet's estimate. The decrease will be partly due to a fall in the threshold of impurities China is willing to accept per ton of waste, higher standards that most countries currently cannot meet. Some are now looking at emerging markets elsewhere such as India, Pakistan or Southeast Asia, but it could be more expensive than shipping waste to China.
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