Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries responds to China’s scrap ban

China flag with recycle symbolThe Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI; Washington, DC) announced on Aug. 21 that it filed comments with the World Trade Organization (WTO) in response to China’s intent to ban certain scrap imports. “As the voice of the recycling industry, ISRI supports free and fair trade and opposes measures that restrict the free flow of specification-grade commodities around the world,” said IRSI’s news release. “In an effort to prevent imported waste from polluting the environment, China’s ban on ‘solid waste’ will have a negative economic impact on the recycling industries in the United States and China, the manufacturing sector in China that relies on these highly valuable commodities and the environmental sustainability opportunities from the use of recyclable materials in China.”

In its letter to the WTO, ISRI provided statistics from the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) showing that the United States exported 37 million metric tons of commodity-grade scrap metal, paper and plastic in 2016 worth $16.5 billion. Of that, China imported more than 16.2 million tons of scrap valued at $5.2 billion from the United States in 2016. Plastic scrap represented 776 million tons valued at $282 million.

ISRI requested a revision of the policy to avoid a disruption in trade and asked for clarification of the ban’s scope. Some excerpts from ISRI’s comments appeared in the news release, noting that while ISRI “supports the efforts of the Chinese government to improve environmental protection and standards within its domestic recycling infrastructure, we disagree that a ban on the import of specification-grade scrap materials will help with those efforts.”

ISRI also strongly emphasized that “scrap is not waste,” as waste materials have no useful value. The organization went on to stress the “need to distinguish scrap from waste within the notification, as well as in the underlying regulations and related notices issued by the Chinese government, in order to properly identify materials that are being banned and clarify for the exporting community products that are permissible for import.

ISRI emphasized that the U.S. recycling industry “stands ready to help China to prevent deficient practices that harm the physical environment in China” and “supports the government of China’s efforts to improve domestic collection, processing and distribution of scrap materials and welcomes the opportunity to provide information and training on operational best practices.”

ISRI offered to share information and analysis of market conditions as well as guidelines on developing "supply chains to ensure the efficient use of scrap materials, especially with environmental sustainability in mind.” ISRI also recommended that the Chinese government “officially recognize industry-wide standards as outlined in the ISRI Specifications Circular.”

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