Since 2004, China was, in addition to the main waste generator in the world, the main destination for waste produced in other countries. In 2012, 56% of the plastic waste exported around the world went to the Asian giant.
As of January this year, the Chinese authorities have decided to ban the importation of 24 types of garbage. Next, we will see some factors to better understand the scope of this new measure that affects many countries.
Why did China import garbage?
The major economic growth of China was the reason why the country needed a lot of raw material, both for the manufacture of products for its internal market and for export. Hence, the countries that delivered their waste to China bought it back later and converted it into new products.
This exchange seemed to benefit all parties. The most developed countries, mainly from Europe and the United States, could get rid of a gigantic amount of garbage, especially plastics. And they also received money in return.
For its part, China could alleviate its shortage of certain raw materials and get the materials it needed in increasing quantities.
What kind of garbage did the Asian country stop importing?
The ban affects 24 types of waste. These mainly fall under four categories covering plastics, paper and cardboard, waste of certain materials and textile waste.
China has grown tired of being the world’s garbage dump and has decided to import only good quality waste. In November 2017, impurity thresholds were established to ensure that everything that arrives is clean. The requirement is a maximum of 1.5% impurities; in the majority of waste it is impossible to guarantee such a low limit.
Why has China prohibited the importation of waste?
The Chinese Government assures that the new law that prohibits the import of foreign garbage responds to the desire to improve their poor environmental conditions and curb pollution. The Asian country has positioned itself in the past year as a new world leader in green development.
It has been proven that the numerous garbage recycling plants are very polluting. That is why the Chinese Ministry of the Environment plans to close some of the treatment plants. The main processing areas are in the coastal areas, especially in the provinces of Canton, Shandong and Zhejiang.
On the other hand, much of the waste, especially plastics, arrived dirty or poorly classified. And this meant an additional treatment that was also very expensive.
Where will all that trash go now?
In 2016, only Europe produced more than one million tonnes of waste. Countries that will no longer be able to deliver their garbage to China should urgently seek another destination to send it to.
They could contemplate the possibility of selling the waste to other countries with economies that rely on intensive use of raw materials; as is the case of India or Turkey. The problem is that these countries do not have the purchasing power that China has.
Some organizations, such as Greenpeace, maintain that the solution is not to find other places to send waste. On the contrary, this should be the opportunity for governments and the private sector to find ways to generate less waste.