China’s “Operation Green Fence” Impacts Global Trash
(3BL Media/Justmeans) - For years, one of the America’s biggest exports to China has been trash. But in February 2013, China announced ‘Operation Green Fence,’ an effort by Chinese environmental and customs officials to be more stringent about what imported waste will be allowed into the country. So far, ‘Operation Green Fence’ has rejected an estimated 800,000-plus tonnes of recyclables or scrap from arriving in China. It is this nation’s first major campaign to enforce strict waste quality legislation. The initiative has caused chaos at some ports, where Chinese customs officials now conducting rigorous checks have suspended the import licences of 247 companies. Any shipment of recyclables that’s found to have even a single contaminant such as a syringe or a stowaway rodent could be turned away.
Trash is a lucrative and dynamic market worth $5bn (£3.2bn) annually in plastic scrap alone. China's demand for low-cost recycled raw materials has meant waste shipments from Europe, the U.S., Japan and Hong Kong have arrived quickly, with scrap becoming the top American export to China by value ($11.3bn) in 2011. China controls a large portion of the recycling market, importing about 70% of the world's 500m tonnes of electronic waste and 12m tonnes of plastic waste each year.
China’s policy changes have had a significant impact on the global recycling trade, putting pressure on western countries to reconsider their reliance on the cost-effective practice of exporting waste. There are reports of Western traders selling their scrap to countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia, and rejected shipments being landfilled. China's ten-month-long ‘Operation Green Fence’ campaign is set to end in November 2013.
In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency has created a sustainable materials management road map to 2020, and says education and stronger public and private partnerships are required to advance recycling, reuse and waste reduction. Yet despite this, a new recycling plant hasn't been opened in the States since 2003. There’s a lot of concern as to what America will do with its waste if it can’t be sent to China. The current lack of recycling centres to take rubbish could mean some of it will end up in landfills; U.S. cities may be forced to take a hard look at what kind of recycling is offered, and/or find a way to produce less contaminated waste.
It is clear that America, with Europe, Japan and Hong Kong, has to rethink its current mind-set toward recycling and create solutions that are no longer dependent on sending trash abroad. A real focus on recycling innovation and sustainable design could actually boost Western recycling industries and economies.
Photo Credit: Ian Burt; oddsock