China, historically the largest recyclable scrap importer in the world, has made it clear that they want to improve their environment by increasing the recycling of domestic recyclable materials. Additionally, China began implementing policies, often referred to collectively as National Sword, that restrict the importation of foreign recyclables.

In 2013, China implemented Green Fence: import restrictions with increased requirements for recyclable scrap inspections.

  • In February 2017, China announced National Sword, 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.
  • In July 2017, China confirmed 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.
  • At the end of 2017, China implemented a new policy called Blue Sky that includes tougher import contamination standards as well as stringent inspection standards and enforcement measures. 
  • In April 2018, China announced additional material bans would go into effect at the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019. 
  • In May 2018, Chinese customs enacted 100 percent inspection of recyclable scrap material at the ports and shut down U.S. preshipment approvals for one month, effectively banning import into China through early June. China implemented these policies to encourage job growth in the recycling sector as well as reduce environmental impacts through the promotion of in-country waste management.
  • Throughout summer 2018, Chinese paper and plastic companies increased investment in 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.
  • In July 2018, China declares their intent to ban all recyclable material imports by 2020.
  • In October 2018, Chinese permits for recycled paper imports increase to early 2018 levels, while scrap plastic permits remain low.

Other Regions

The policy changes in China have caused a significant increase in scrap imports to Southeast Asian countries. Without the inspection or processing capacity to meet the huge flow of materials diverted to their ports, countries like Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia have begun to enact bans and inspection standards similar to those in China.

May 2018

  • Several Vietnamese ports imposed temporary bans on scrap plastic in order to deal with stockpiled materials and announced new requirements for recovered fiber imports.
  • 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

August 2018

  • Vietnam stops issuing new scrap plastic import licenses.
  • Thailand passes resolution that will ban scrap plastic imports within two years.

October 2018

  • Malaysia imposes import tax on scrap plastics and tightens permit requirements.
  • Taiwan limits fiber and plastic scrap imports.
  • Vietnam ban on plastic scrap extended until further notice and the country releases new inspection guidelines.

As these countries continue to impose restrictions on recyclable scrap imports, it will become increasingly difficult and expensive to export recyclable material. Despite changes to global import policies, California continues to utilize the global marketplace to manage its diverse recycling needs.