Basel Convention

The approval of the Basel Convention amendments on plastic waste will have a significant impact on the export of plastic scrap from California as the transboundary shipments of most plastic scrap and waste will be controlled or regulated effective January 1, 2021. International shipments of most plastic scrap will be allowed only with the prior written consent of the importing country and any transit countries.

  • May 2019 – 187 countries, not including the United States, approve new Basel Convention amendments regarding international trade of plastic wastes.
  • July 2020 – United States objects to incorporating Basel Convention changes into OECD framework. If OECD refrains from adopting new changes into framework, trade in plastic waste would be less complicated between OECD countries.
  • Sept 2020 – OECD countries did not reach consensus on incorporating Basel changes, so OECD member countries will need to secure permission from destination countries before shipping hazardous plastic waste. There will be no OECD-specific controls on shipping non-hazardous plastic waste between member countries.
  • Oct 2020 – United States and Canada sign bilateral agreement to continue trade of plastic scrap and waste to comply with new Basel amendments.
  • Jan 1, 2021 – Basel Convention plastic waste amendments take effect. 

China

China, historically the largest recyclable scrap importer in the world, has been restricting the import of recyclable material through a variety of policies since 2013. The country plans to restrict imports of all ‘solid waste’ by the end of 2020, which currently includes all scrap paper and plastic.

2013-2018

  • Feb 2013 – Release of the Green Fence policy, several import restrictions and increased requirements for recyclable scrap inspections.
  • Feb 2017– Announcement of the National Sword policy a campaign to stop the smuggling of illegal scrap imports. By this time, US imports of recyclables to China had already dropped from a high of 13.3 million tons in 2013 to 9.3 million tons in 2016.
  • July 2017– China confirms its intent to ban certain recyclables from import through a filing with the World Trade Organization. The ban covers postconsumer mixed plastics, unsorted mixed paper, textiles, and more.
  • Mar 2018 – The Blue Sky policy is announced and includes tougher import contamination standards as well as stringent inspection standards and enforcement measures. 
  • Apr 2018 – China announces additional material bans will go into effect at the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019. 
  • May 2018 – Customs enacts 100 percent inspection of recyclable scrap material at the ports and shut down U.S. preshipment approvals for one month, effectively banning scrap imports into China through early June.
  • Aug to Oct 2018 – Chinese paper and plastic companies purchase US paper mills and plastic processing companies. They can import pelletized recycled plastic and recycled paper pulp into China, giving them a consistent supply of recycled feedstock.
  • July 2018 – China declares their intent to ban all recyclable material imports by 2020.
  • Oct 2018 – import permits for recycled paper imports increase to early 2018 levels, while scrap plastic permits remain low.
  • Dec 2018 – China announces a restriction on scrap steel and aluminum starting July 1, 2019.

2019

  • Jan – China announces plan to restrict imports of eight metal scrap categories beginning July 1, 2019 that were previously on the “unrestricted” materials list
  • Apr – China reiterates their goal of a total ban on solid waste imports by the end of 2019. Materials “generated from harmless processing of solid waste will not be classified as solid waste if they meet China’s national quality standard and don’t pose risks to public health or ecological safety”.
  • June – The port of Sanshan in China stops taking scrap metal days before the country's July 1st metal scrap restrictions take place, causing concern about an influx of metal to other Southeast Asian markets. 
  • Oct – Regulations under consideration in China show that the country is still determined to ban “solid waste” imports completely by 2020. 
  • Oct – China approves non-Chinese government affiliated entity to inspect US fiber shipments, allowing more options for inspection. 

2020

  • January – China acknowledges that ‘scrap’ material is not ‘solid waste’ in standards for nonferrous metal scrap imports, may set standard for other recycled scrap material imports.
  • March – Tariff on recycled paper pulp imports removed.
  • June – August – International shipping companies announce that they will no longer accept loads of recovered fiber and plastics destined for China.
  • December – China reaffirms solid waste import ban beginning in 2021.

South & Southeast Asia

The policy changes in China caused a significant increase in scrap imports to South and Southeast Asian countries. Throughout 2018 and 2019, many countries enacted quotas and stringent contamination limits as they sought to manage increased need for inspection and enforcement and the growth of illegal processing facilities. The recent Basel Convention changes impacting plastic waste will have additional effects on the flow of recyclable material to these countries.

2018 -2019

  • May 2018 – Several Vietnamese ports imposed temporary bans on scrap plastic to deal with stockpiled materials and announced new requirements for recovered fiber imports.
  • May 2018 – Indonesia now requires 100 percent inspection of scrap paper and plastic imports.
  • June 2018 – Thailand announces an indefinite ban on scrap plastic and electronic imports.
  • July 2018 – Malaysia stops issuing scrap plastic import permits for three months
  • Aug 2018 – Vietnam stops issuing new scrap plastic import licenses.
  • Aug 2018 – Thailand passes resolution that will ban scrap plastic imports within two years.
  • Oct 2018 – Malaysia imposes import tax on scrap plastics and tightens permit requirements.
  • Oct 2018 – Taiwan limits fiber and plastic scrap imports.
  • Oct 2018 – Vietnam ban on plastic scrap extended until further notice and the country releases new inspection guidelines.
  • Mar 2019 – India announces ban on scrap plastic imports effectively immediately, then postpones ban until August 31, 2019.
  • Mar 2019 – Indonesia sets recovered paper import restrictions and bale quality requirement effective immediately, and then postpones changes until further notice. 
  • Apr 2019 – Vietnam announces plan to ban all plastic scrap imports in 2025.
  • Malaysia sending as much as 3,000 tons of plastic scrap back to countries of origin, including the United States
  • June 2019 – Indonesia returns 110 short tons of heavily contaminated scrap paper to the United States
  • June 2019 – Indonesian contamination limit for scrap paper relaxed though imports still require additional inspections
  • July 2019 – Cambodia returns 3.2 million pounds of scrap plastic to countries of origin, with some material originated from a port in California.
  • Aug 2019 – Indonesia clarifies scrap paper restrictions, establishing limits for prohibitives and outthrows in paper bales. 

2020

  • January – India will enforce 1% contamination limit on mixed paper imports
  • March – South Korea announces general plans to reduce import of recycled PET bottles.
  • June – Indonesia will enforce 2% contamination limit on paper and plastic imports.
  • November – Vietnam will ban imports of mixed paper beginning in 2022.