China's Jan scrap metal imports plunge to 2-yr low as new bans bite

23 February 2018

China’s scrap metal imports fell to the lowest level in nearly two years in January, as stringent new rules on foreign solid waste imports came into force at the start of the year, with imports of other types of waste also tumbling.

The world’s top metals consumer brought in 490,000 tonnes of metal scrap last month, data from the General Administration of Customs showed on Friday. That compares with 700,000 tonnes in December and 660,000 tonnes in January 2017.

Metal scrap typically includes scrap copper, steel and aluminium. Shipments for scrap copper were at 200,000 tonnes last month, down 27.5 percent from a year ago.

Beijing in November told the World Trade Organization (WTO) that it will block all imports of 24 types of foreign trash, including plastics waste from living sources, vanadium slag and unsorted waste paper, in an effort to combat pollution and deal with domestic waste problems.

It also vowed to bring in less of other kinds of solid waste and adopt tighter impurity thresholds on imports. These were set at 1 percent for nonferrous metal scrap like scrap copper and 0.5 percent for paper and ferrous metals.

While the new impurity limits don’t come into force until March 1, the impact is already being felt. China’s overall imports of solid waste – including waste paper, waste plastics and scrap metal – fell by 50.3 percent year on year in January to 1.74 million tonnes, customs data showed earlier this month.

Friday’s more detailed figures showed that arrivals of waste paper fell 44.6 percent to 1.24 million tonnes in January from a year ago.

Waste plastics imports also plunged last month, down 94.4 percent to 10,000 tonnes from December’s 180,000 tonnes.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) issued a new regulation on waste paper imports in December, saying only companies with annual processing capacity of more than 50,000 tonnes will be authorized to apply for import licences.

The MEP also asked traders to prove they are end-users of solid waste if they want to import the material.

China has issued the first of four batches of imports quotas for solid waste in 2018. So far, it has approved a total of 4.19 million tonnes of waste paper and 15,058 tonnes of waste plastics.