Following China’s refusal to accept plastic waste from the West, import policies across Southeast Asia are continuing to tighten, making it increasingly difficult to move certain e-scrap materials to international markets. These policy changes have not only greatly affected curbside recycling programs across the United States, but it has taken its toll on certain commodities in the electronic recycling sector. E-plastics and some metals have had their downstream markets disrupted heavily.
Electronic plastic (e-plastic) is officially classified as “other plastics” when it is being shipped internationally. This category also includes mixed-plastic bales and other materials not fitting into more specific classifications. The U.S. Census Bureau figures indicate exporters shipped 549 million fewer pounds of these plastics, during the first nine months of 2018 compared with the same time period for 2017, which is a significant decrease of 38 percent.
Other countries have also implemented a ban on a majority of e-scrap imports. Recently, Thailand announced its intention to stop all imports of scrap plastic within the next two years. And this won’t be the last regulatory movement we’ll see. The following is a roundup of actions taken by governments in Asia.
Vietnam: The government has implemented an outright ban on plastics recovered from electronic scrap. In a press release issued in late October, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment noted that “plastic cases of used electronic equipment, such as: television, computers, office equipment” are among the plastics not allowed to be imported under the new regulations.
Included materials in Vietnam’s e-plastics ban are those that have flame retardants, such as polybrominated biphenyls, or compounds that include phthalate, lead, cadmium, mercury or chromium.
Taiwan: Scrap material imports have risen sharply this year and Taiwan’s environmental protection agency acted rein in the trend. In October, the Taiwanese government set forth regulations to reduce the types of materials accepted for import. According to the Tai Pei Times, companies can only import post-industrial plastic from their overseas production facilities or loads of a single material type. It is unclear whether certain polymers are banned completely.
Malaysia: It has been widely suspected that Malaysia is planning to ban plastic imports in the coming years, based on information presented at a meeting of several government ministries in October. The ban has been described as an effort to reduce imports of non-recyclable plastics, rather than usable scrap materials.
China: The Chinese government has confirmed it will ban additional recovered materials, including post-industrial scrap plastic, at the end of the year. China announced in April that the expanded ban was coming. The confirmation was made public by Chinese state media agency Xinhua last month.
Additionally, China’s import restrictions continue to be a topic of discussion at World Trade Organization (WTO) meetings. According to a WTO news release, the U.S. and four other delegations questioned Chinese WTO representatives about the scrap material import restrictions during an Oct. 22 meeting of the Committee on Import Licensing. The U.S. highlighted that Chinese manufacturers are being forced to use virgin material, and it said import restrictions could lead to “a heightened threat of increased marine litter,” according to the release.