China’s withdrawal from the global scrap market- What will be the consequences?


China has always been the largest scrap importer in the world since 1980. Scrap has long been known as ‘foreign trash’ among Chinese people because of the extensive revenue generated via scrap trading and reuse. Where the world seems to be busy with reducing ocean pollution, China has been the biggest hub for treating and reprocessing scrap waste.

Research conducted by the government showed that by the end of 2012, up to 56% of the plastic waste exported globally ended up in Chinese scrap markets. During that time, this scrap was a major source of raw material for exponentially growing Chinese manufacturing industries but it had its harms too which went totally unnoticed. Due to poor supervision and careless monitoring of quality control, the debris caused many environmental and critical health problems among the people. Extreme levels of lead were found in the blood samples of 80% of the children living in the town.

Pollution Free China and the rest of the World:

So, keeping this in mind, a new Chinese law was introduced in 2018 for the complete ban on 24 different types of waste. Furthermore, China is thinking of implementing a total ban on the import of all types of solid wastes including metal scrap in order to go pollution free by the end of 2020 in its new anti-pollution policy. This sudden action by Chinese policy makers has left the world in utter disbelief. While the West is showing fits of anger on this decision, the rest of the world is baffled as to how the scrap would be dealt with in future.

This ban by China is a major threat to the multi-billion waste disposal and recycling industries of the world. Here’s how.

Export of waste to under-developed Countries:

Take a plastic bottle for an example, the average lifespan of this bottle is 450 years from the production to decomposition period. This is a very basic requirement of every living being due to which there are trillions of plastic bottles in the world and a lot of other things like that. If China decides to step back, it is feared that this harmful waste will end up in the less developed countries with poor waste management policies and which even does not have proper equipment available for it.

Less Capacity available for Waste Recycling in other countries:

When the scrap is exported to third world countries like Vietnam, Africa, etc. they do not have enough means of storage to hold this large amount of trash in their industry and recycling comes even after that. Due to which the waste ends up being dumped into landfills which not only results in environmental pollution but also the product is not utilized properly.

Unemployment of Millions of Workers:

Waste disposal and Recycling industry is one of the world’s most expensive industries. There are millions of workers employed. In every country, waste disposal and recycling plants are either a major source of income for the poor or a major support to the national economy. If the ban is implemented, there will be nothing but unemployment for them. This is speculated to result in creating a serious hurdle in country’s path to progress.

Serious waste disposal and dumping strategies are required:

China’s ban on the import of scrap material from all around the world will cause the countries to face the reality of their waste problems. Keeping this in view, serious waste disposal and recycling strategies, policies and laws are required by the countries in order to avoid pollution in the region. This whole process is quite time consuming and our scrap production is increasing day after day to make it even more challenging.

China’s waste ban is not only a great loss to the world’s scrap and waste recycling industries but also for the countries themselves. Because when the importer of trash is not available, trash needs to be handled at immediate basis. However, the lack of proper waste treatment scrap processing units in countries other than China has created a big challenge for the globe. By far, the only solution which seems to be immediate and feasible is the reduction of waste on individual level.


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