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. In 2017, China began implementing policies, often referred to collectively as National Sword, that restrict the importation of foreign recyclables. The country plans to restrict imports of all ‘solid waste’ by the end of 2019.


  • February–Release of the Green Fence policy, a number of import restrictions and increased requirements for recyclable scrap inspections.


  • February–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–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.


  • March–The Blue Sky policy is announced and includes tougher import contamination standards as well as stringent inspection standards and enforcement measures. 
  • April–China announces additional material bans will go into effect at the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019. 
  • May–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.
  • August to October–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, China declares their intent to ban all recyclable material imports by 2020.
  • October, import permits for recycled paper imports increase to early 2018 levels, while scrap plastic permits remain low.
  • December–China announces a restriction on scrap steel and aluminum starting July 1, 2019.


  • January – China announces plan to restrict imports of eight metal scrap categories beginning July 1, 2019 that were previously on the “unrestricted” materials list
  • April–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. 
  • October - Regulations under consideration in China show that the country is still determined to ban “solid waste” imports completely by 2020. 
  • October – China approves non-Chinese government affiliated entity to inspect US fiber shipments, allowing more options for inspection. 


  • Jan - 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.

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–Several Vietnamese ports imposed temporary bans on scrap plastic in order to deal with stockpiled materials and announced new requirements for recovered fiber imports.
  • May–Indonesia now requires 100 percent inspection of scrap paper and plastic imports.
  • June–Thailand announces an indefinite ban on scrap plastic and electronic imports.
  • July–Malaysia stops issuing scrap plastic import permits for three months
  • August–Vietnam stops issuing new scrap plastic import licenses.
  • August–Thailand passes resolution that will ban scrap plastic imports within two years.
  • October–Malaysia imposes import tax on scrap plastics and tightens permit requirements.
  • October–Taiwan limits fiber and plastic scrap imports.
  • October–Vietnam ban on plastic scrap extended until further notice and the country releases new inspection guidelines.


  • March–India announces ban on scrap plastic imports effectively immediately, then postpones ban until August 31, 2019.
  • March–Indonesia sets recovered paper import restrictions and bale quality requirement effective immediately, and then postpones changes until further notice. 
  • April–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- Indonesia returns 110 short tons of heavily contaminated scrap paper to the United States
  • June-Indonesian contamination limit for scrap paper relaxed though imports still require additional inspections
  • July-Cambodia returns 3.2 million pounds of scrap plastic to countries of origin, with some material originated from a port in California.
  • August-Indonesia clarifies scrap paper restrictions, establishing limits for prohibitives and outthrows in paper bales. 


  • India will enforce 1% contamination limit on mixed paper imports

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.