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China’s crackdown on foreign plastics pushes Vancouver recyclers to the curb

Recently tightened restrictions on plastic exports to China have local recyclers feeling lost, as materials pile up in the Lower Mainland.

A “green fence” policy implemented by Chinese inspection agencies earlier this year calls for greater limits on what kind of foreign plastics are accepted.

The new rules are causing big problems for Canadian recycling companies that say there is no longer anywhere to ship materials because China has been a major overseas export market for foreign plastics for many years.

Jason Kemp, manager of Westcoast Plastic Recycling, said any lower-grade plastic, unsorted plastic or materials that could contain bacteria such as beverage containers are now being turned away.

“Anything that had liquid in it, anything that’s been used, anything that can carry bacteria, they don’t want it entering into China,” said Kemp. “So it’s really affecting recyclers that are taking the curbside.”

Nicole Stefenelli, CEO of Urban Impact Recycling, said restrictions tightened up in February. They have resulted in extra costs and efforts for her business. Everything has slowed down and she has been forced to hire more staff, she said.

“It’s a big pain,” said Stefenelli. “We are only really seeing the consequences in the past two to three weeks. It’s been quite apparent.”

Stefenelli said her New Westminister recycling centre already has a huge backlog of plastics.

“We’ve been relying on domestic markets to market most of our materials and that absolutely poses a problem,” she said. “You can’t just rely on the domestic market to consume the product. We absolutely need consumption elsewhere as well.”

George Jasper, manager of Waste Control Services, said he is also experiencing a backup of materials and increased costs.

Jasper said while domestic markets are able to accept more valuable plastics such as clear plastics, lower-valued types of plastics are consistently exported overseas, mainly to China.

“It’s going to have a shake-out effect in the recycling industry,” he said. “Companies whose business model has relied on exporting recycling to overseas markets are going to be impacted majorly.”

Jasper noted that tipping fees for incoming recyclable materials have already increased, which he takes as a sign for worst things to come.

But Stefenelli believes the Chinese market will come around because consuming mills rely on North American recyclables to create products.

“They do need recovered waste paper or waste plastic or waste metal to make something new,” she said. “At some point, they’re going to be tapping their toes saying ‘Come on, we need material.’”

source By Cara McKenna  – Article link

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