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Asia Minute: China’s Recycling Policy Change Hits the Region

Jakob Montrasio

China is changing its recycling policy, and the impacts are being felt all around the world. That includes Hawai‘i because some shipments of recycled material that used to go to China will no longer be accepted. But China’s new policy is already having an immediate effect in a number of places—including Australia. HPR’s Bill Dorman has more in today’s Asia Minute.

China has tightened restrictions on what it will accept as imported waste.

Since the 1980’s, China has taken trash from other countries, and paid for it. Some was converted to re-usable commodities such as scrap metal. Other material wound up in landfills.

According to government figures, China bought nearly 50 million tons of trash in 2015. It came from around the world—Europe, the United States, and the Asia Pacific.

But it’s a low-margin business and not exactly environmentally friendly.

The Beijing government put out a notice to the World Trade Organization in July alerting other members it was changing business practices. At the start of this year, China stopped accepting 24 categories of solid waste—from some textiles and plastics to certain kinds of metals.

Credit Alan Levine / Flickr

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation says that has disrupted the shipment of 600,000 tons of waste that up to now has gone from Australia to China every year. The change in China’s policy may force a change in Australia’s policy on trash.

Debates are underway about bolstering the country’s domestic recycling industry—and taking steps such as using recycled glass as road building material.

But for now, many recyclable items are simply piling up in warehouses around Australia.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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