China Tightens Recycling Import Rules (National Sword)

What is National Sword?

In 2017, China enacted “National Sword 2017,” which has disrupted the recycling industry worldwide. Until recently, China has been the largest importer of recycled materials in the world.  The National Sword policy makes China’s rules on recycled imports stricter, which includes cleaner bales of paper and plastic.  Under the new standard, China will only accept recycled materials if they are less than 1% contaminated with garbage (this eliminates any wet paper or cardboard, plastic bag pieces, etc). The new standard is more stringent than what has been the industry standard of 5% for years. In addition, China will not renew many licenses for Chinese recyclers, which has significantly decreased demand for imported recycled materials. With fewer buyers, there is a surplus of materials in the market and a significantly lower price for recovered materials.

What does this mean for our recycling operations?

Currently, sorting facilities are designed to produce bales of plastics and papers with less than 5% contamination. Recycled material must now be five times cleaner, or China will not accept it. In order to meet these new specifications, Recology will invest in more equipment, hire more labor to sort out all the contaminants, and slow down sort lines to check that recyclable materials are clean before baling. Only clean, high-quality plastics and papers can be recycled and made into new products. Paper with any traces of food or liquid on them, cardboard with grease from pizza boxes, dirt, leaves, or plastic bags are all contaminants that must be removed.

What does this mean to our customers?

Recology will continue to provide exceptional service, and guide our customers through ongoing education and outreach. The new regulations will affect our customers through stricter recycling standards, and lower thresholds for contaminants in the blue bin.  Recology is committed to partnering with the communities we serve to find innovative solutions to challenges like these. To help reduce recycling contamination, download the guide here.