China waste clampdown could create UK cardboard recycling chaos, say industry experts

15th December 2017 | Recycling

Imminent restrictions by the Chinese on importing cardboard from the rest of the world are likely to cause chaos in the UK in the coming weeks, according to a leading cardboard recycling expert. From 1 January 2018, China will impose much stricter quality restrictions on imported cardboard as well as banning the importation of all plastic waste and mixed paper rubbish from all over the world.

The move is part of president Xi Jinping’s drive to create a “beautiful China” with a clean environment.

The new quality standards mean cardboard will only be accepted by the Chinese if the material is uncontaminated with other waste products. From January, contamination rates must be below 0.5%, rather than the 1.5% previously applied.

Cardboard Recycling

This means cardboard recyclig which still contains staples or is contaminated with grit from the warehouse, or contains stray waste products such as tin cans or traces of plastic, could be rejected and sent back on container ships to the UK and other countries of origin. The UK exports around 3m tonnes of cardboard waste to China each year but some or all of this could be rejected under the new restrictions.

Simon Ellin, of the Recycling Association, says the tighter controls on contamination could mean some or all of the millions of tonnes of cardboard waste exported from the UK to China each year could be rejected and sent back. He appealed for the Chinese to delay implementation of the new standards until other countries were ready.

He spoke as the World Trade Organization ended talks with China over the impending ban with no change to the Chinese position. Ellin said, after the discussion with recycling representatives in the US and Europe, it was clear no one was prepared for the new standards. Chinese officials were also unclear about what the new quality standards mean and what waste they could accept. “The ban and greater restrictions on imports is being implemented too quickly,” he said.

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