Zero Waste Canada responds to China’s import ban

Organization calls the move a “wake-up call” and says it is an opportunity for change.

Zero Waste Canada (ZWC), a British Columbia, Canada-based nonprofit organization focused on responsible resource management and policies, has issued a response to recent announcements out of China related to its import ban on certain grades of scrap paper and plastic materials, citing the move as a “wake-up call.”

The organization says it is time to “re-evaluate policies and practices and adjust to the changing markets.” ZWC calls for collaboration in North America toward introducing more strict policies to ensure higher quality of materials. In addition, the group says entities should “move away from playing the catch-up game that will simply allow loads ‘to move’ or ‘get cleared’” until the next rejection.

While ZWC says China’s import ban can serve as an opportunity in Canada, the group warns against a “quick-fix solution” in energy recovery to respond to China’s import policies.

ZWC’s Jan. 2, 2018, response is listed below in its entirety:

“The recent announcement on behalf of the government of China that it intends to ban the import [of] certain grades of paper and plastic materials as scrap resources by the end of 2017 comes as a wake-up call for our waste and resource management sector here in North America that it is time to re-evaluate policies and practices and adjust to the changing markets.

Starting in January, China’s government is enacting a plastic scrap import ban. In 2018, 24 types of scrap imports will be banned in China, including some types of plastic, mixed paper, waste wool, cotton and yarn. China accepted 51 percent of global plastic scrap imports [in] 2016.

The government of China, in recent years, has enacted policies to boost the country’s own recycling efforts and improve environmental efforts, as well as campaigns to reduce the import of illegal and low-quality scrap containing large amounts of dirty waste and hazardous materials. With the Chinese government offering further dialogue around additional restrictions and increasing quality standards for imports, the trajectory China is moving towards is now evident, looking to receive nonpolluting scraps that are ready to be used directly for production or remanufacturing.

Zero Waste Canada strongly advises our local and national recycling entities to move away from playing the catch-up game that will simply allow loads ‘to move’ or ‘get cleared’ until the next set of restrictions are in place. Zero Waste Canada calls for national, provincial and municipal bodies to collaborate towards introducing more stringent policies, ensuring quality controls at source in respect to real zero waste policies.

At the same time, Zero Waste Canada underscores how it is of paramount importance that the emphasis not only be on initial collection, but equally on the durability and frequency of use in addition to the actual value of recovery. It is in this light that Zero Waste Canada reiterates the importance of preserving the material value (thus economic and environmental value) of products and resources by pushing them further up the zero waste hierarchy towards durable reusable products and reprocessing as opposed to energy recovery and/or incineration. Following a very basic thermodynamic logic, the energy embodied in a product or material, which is retained through reuse and recycling, is exponentially higher than the energy that may be extracted from that material through thermal treatments such as incineration. In an increasingly resource-scarce global framework, with a shrinking foreign export market, burning our resources simply does not represent an economically, ecologically nor socially responsible course of action. Although it may appear more convenient on the surface, Zero Waste Canada strongly urges these governing entities to refrain from resorting to energy recovery as a quick-fix solution to unfolding Chinese import policies.

Zero Waste Canada believes that a cornerstone of resource management is conservation. Ensuring a product can be reused as many times as possible prior to recycling in a local market in the long term will ultimately prove a key measure for resource independence, industrial stability and economic prosperity.

It is time for a widespread and coordinated effort to achieve a higher collection and reuse of quality products and recyclate at source, which translates into higher amounts of products and materials available to extract value from.

The announcement on behalf of the government of China can be an opportunity for Canada to create solutions that move materials further up the zero waste hierarchy where their value may be preserved.

Zero Waste Canada strongly advises all parties to consider these opportunities for systemic change at this crucial time period and is open for collaboration where called upon.

If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Connie Reichelsdorfer at 604-500-8376 or email at”

ZWC works with individuals, businesses and communities across Canada to support continuous reuse of resources and promotes the elimination of landfills and waste-to-energy plants. The nonprofit also advocates at all levels of government for responsible resource management and policies, legislation and initiatives that eliminate waste.

ZWC is the national Canadian affiliate to the Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA) and follows the ZWIA guidelines.

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