China proposes ban on recycling imports

In July, China announced its intention to ban the import of certain recyclable materials ("several plastic resins including PET, PE, PVC, PS, and "other" plastics), textiles, unsorted mixed paper, and other materials") starting in 2018. Experts are weighing in on the potential effects to markets and U.S. curbside recycling programs. Clarissa Morawski sees opportunities. Chaz Miller wrote in Waste 360 that "we keep forgetting that recyclables are commodities whose market value fluctuates due to supply and demand" and that we have been here before, markets collapse and bounce back. Anne Johnson of RRS asked "Is resilience the silver lining to Chinese waste ban?"

"For too long, the U.S. has overlooked supporting and developing its own domestic end markets for recovered materials. It has relied on easy access to foreign markets with a seemingly endless appetite for materials and underdeveloped quality and oversight standards. The U.S. recycling marketplace had taken advantage of these conditions, pushing quantity over quality and many municipal recycling programs and companies have grown as a result.
The downside is the growing dependence on exports for almost the full range of commodities produced by U.S. material recovery facilities (MRFs) and exacerbated the price volatility of commodities by exposing them to the vagaries of foreign policies. This is a house built on an unstable foundation... And in an era of cheap fossil fuel, when recycled materials are in significant competition with virgin materials made with cheap energy or feedstocks, the industry can ill afford this."

Resource Recycling has extensively covered the ongoing news and reactions. Several local and national organizations scheduled webinars and forums for further discussion (see recent webinars).