The Final Word by Chuck Swann

Chuck Swann, Senior Editor

The Final Word by Chuck Swann

For years now, large-scale American trash haulers and recyclers have viewed China has a sort of giant vacuum machine that would eagerly suck up just about any and all recovered material they sent sailing across the Pacific. In fact, China has long been by far the biggest buyer of what Americans throw into recycling bins--and a lot of it has been of marginal quality. No more! says China. It is fed up with the low quality of much of the scrap paper and plastics being sent to its ports.

China has served notice that it will ban imports of 24 types of recovered paper and plastics in January 2018. Sorting the good out of the bad has become too laborious and expensive, and has been leaving China with a burdensome amount of the bad. According to reports from China, the sorting problem has given rise to a cottage industry in towns and villages across the country. Sorting of reusable paper and plastics must overwhelmingly be done by hand, with the useful separated out and sent on to factories--and the towns and villages must then cope with the rejects. Enough is enough, says China.

To some extent, paper is getting tarred with a plastics brush in this trade dust-up. Much of the paper included by US recyclers in trans-Pacific shipments is good stuff: used office papers, envelopes, direct mail, and other tossed-out printed matter, even some old newsprint and old corrugated and cardboard containers.

China wants--in fact, needs--the recyclable fiber. It just doesn't want the garbage that too often comes with it. Nature (and the global pulp and paper industry) abhors a vacuum, so we think two things may happen as a result of China's move. Some countries new on this scene will make new moves to satisfy the country's market needs for recovered paper. And American recyclers will drastically tighten up how they collect, sort, grade and ship recovered product.

Chuck Swann is Senior Editor of Paperitalo Publications.