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China’s Waste Ban: The Importance of Recycling

Andrew Chan

Mrs. Ireland

Intern Mentor

April 5, 2019
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Introduction:

Every year over 91% of plastics end up in a landfill, the ocean, or are incinerated. In

2017, China implemented an import ban on a variety of waste products such as plastic and scrap

metal. The import ban disrupts the economy by causing a variety of problems that will affect

consumers and producers. Problems such as increased costs to recycle, and exporting waste can

be expected. The ban stops foreign countries from exporting their waste into China’s borders

where it is either recycled or thrown into a landfill. China’s main reasoning for putting forth this

legislation is environmental, health, political motivation. In previous years, China has allowed up

to 45% of the world’s waste to be imported into their borders which will cause over 111 million

metric tons of plastic to be displaced alone (Brooks). The U.S is planning to invest over 164

Billion USD in making more plastic bolstering waste accumulation. With fewer places for waste

to be exported waste will continue to drastically accumulate with nowhere to export it causing

more environmental issues. However, even though this ban has drastic effects on the

environment if producers and consumers work to a solution, a great leap forward in waste

management can be taken. The purpose of this paper is to inform the reader about the negative,

and positive externalities that have resulted from the import ban while also showing possible

solutions and the current problems of the recycling industry.

Review of Literature:
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The Chinese waste ban, on over 34 waste products will result in many externalities that

will be felt all over the world. Externalities are effects that a third party feeds from an economic

decision, there are both positive and negative externalities. The waste ban, being a huge

economic decision will have many positive and negative externalities. Looking into the negative

externalities present, one of the most persistent externalities is that countries around the world

will seek to find new places to export their waste. Some effects this will cause is a surplus in

waste meaning more people will want to get rid of the waste than to take it. On a smaller scale,

this can cause companies to have to pay higher rates to export there waste, or they can look to

more unethical methods to rid themselves of the waste. On another hand Advances Science says

“While recycling and the circular economy have been touted as potential solutions, upward of

half of the plastic waste intended for recycling has been exported to hundreds of countries

around the world.” meaning that all waste planned to go to China will have to be sent to different

countries which are unprepared for such a surplus in imports. To accommodate this new trade

deals and routes will have to be made, which will cause an increase in export price. The main

countries that have been affected by the surplus in waste products are Thailand and Malaysia

who have experienced a 1900% increase in waste products being imported. Another externality

is the regulations and costs that producers face from China. Hand in hand with its new policies

China has started to make many new regulations and policies that businesses within its countries

must follow. While China had policies before they were not enforced, the important part of the

policies currently being made is that they are enforced, going as far as jailing business leaders.

China has started to implement legislation for three main reasons, the economy, environment,

and population. In previous years China has not been able to support itself, however, China’s
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economy can support a large scale change of production and no longer needs the support of

businesses to keep the economy running. On another note, China's populace has to deal with

pollution on a daily basis, which will affect the faith in political leaders. In order to secure their

positions, the general leaders must somewhat satisfy the population's demands. Lastly, China has

many environmental concerns and is pushing the blue skies movement. The blue skies movement

is a government-run program that aims to drastically lower pollution. The blue skies movement

also affects resource prices. It also looks at boosting production costs, funding new research and

technologies to lower pollution levels (agchemigroup.eu). One of the largest impacts the

regulations placed by China has had is the shutdowns of factories scattered throughout China.

Over 1000 factories and plants have been shut down by the Chinese government due to various

factors such as pollution emission do not meet the new standards. (npr.org). Lastly, one of the

largest negative externality in the world is the pollution level rising. The major way of this

happening is through the increased cost of exporting goods. Previously recycled goods have

always been cheaper to export rather than to take up space in a landfill. But, with increased

prices, more recyclables will end up in landfills or as pollution. Thailand, an importer of waste

has recently been flooded with more waste than it will ever need, and in turn, has made a policy

limiting the waste importing. This trend can continue as more waste is sent to less developed

countries causing the waste to have even fewer places to end up in.

On the other hand, they are also Positive externalities that can result from the import ban.

Positive externalities are a benefit enjoyed by third parties due to an economic decision. One of

the larger positive externality is the awareness the problem itself will raise. Awareness of the

faults of the recycling industry raised due to the publicity that the import ban has raised. In turn,
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many businesses and consumers will learn what happens to their waste and hopefully cause

change. On more of an economic note, Businesses and Countries can capitalize on demand for a

larger recycling market because they need for recycling plants is much larger. One of the largest

reasons China’s import ban can be a positive change is it can reshape the entire recycling

industry. With the large demand for recycling plants, a business could use that and create new

factories with improved technology which will overall improve the industry. Research and

funding of new technology will improve on outputs of recycling plants will create a larger

margin of profit. Not only would new technology improve the recycling industry but it can also

lay the foundations for a cleaner market and a much more profitable one. Countries with

recycling plants can now import a large number of raw resources cheaply thus, improving their

economy and infrastructure. Lastly, The government can use this opportunity to tax pollution

outputs which will lower the overall supply of pollution and bolster funds.

Most people believe the recycling industry to be perfect. When they take out the recycle

or throw away that it will be reused and that material will be saved. However, the recycling

industry has different faults that make it inefficient and not as profitable as it could be. Starting

off with the largest step in recycling, the impurities, and the sorting step. After the good is

recycled it must be shipped or sent to a recycled plant, but for it to actually be used it must first

pass an inspection. This inspection is mainly about the purity or the batch and material. If the

material is super low quality it cannot be used, and if the batch of material is carelessly made

with all different types of materials it is useless. The impurities mainly consist of different types

of recyclables mixed in with others, as the two cannot be recycled together the batch is useless.

While sorting recyclables many mistakes happen along the way. It could be a mistake in the
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machinery or just a bad batch. However, impurities in the batch can result in the entire batch

being useless and low quality. The majority of recycling lies in sorting and it is one of the most

cost expensive processes as it is critical to recycled goods. After sorting comes the packaging

and quality of the recycled good. Once the recycled goods are packaged they are then shipped to

plants where they are broken down into raw materials and then made into completely new items

Generally, items made from recycling plants are of lower quality than regular goods. Lower

quality goods cause profits to drop, making the recycling business less profitable.

Finally, even with all the negative externalities and imperfect recycling industry, they are still

many ways to improve and remedy the situation. Starting with the most basic, government

intervention. Government intervention would be the government taking action by policies,

regulations, or intervention. One of the major ways the government can impact this economic

decision is through Taxes. Through taxes, the government can lower the supply of products that

produce a lot of waste products. Although this is a more practical solution it is short term and

would still leave the recycling industry needing reform. One type of tax that would be helpful is

a progressive tax, as more pollution is produced taxes on it gets higher. This type of tax is a

great way to eliminate pollution produced in large quantities as it would cost businesses more to

produce. Government regulation on pollution will push businesses to look for ways to produce

goods in a more environmentally friendly manner. Lastly, one of the more clean solutions is to

look into and fund biodegradable plastics and new technology that can improve the way plastic is

made and sorted. Biodegradable plastics is one of the better solutions as Biodegradable plastics

are able to decompose over time and are also able to be used as normal plastics, however, they

only are broken down in certain temperatures (pepctplastics.com). This would improve the
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pollution created by plastics because they would no longer stay around as long. On the other

hand, funding put into the research of new ways to produce will be the most expensive, yet yield

the best results as it is a long term solution. By using new technology to produce goods you are

able to generate less pollution and more efficient goods.

In the past, China has imported over 45% of the waste produced as they were able to

make cheap products with them. But, products made with recycled material have not been

economically viable due to poor quality. If plastic continues to be made in increasingly large

amounts and is also not recycled than more and more plastic waste will end up in a landfill or as

pollution. It is important for businesses and consumers to realize that these problems are not

going away. Facing these current events that look to have no end drastic measures are needed to

be taken. Some current solutions that businesses or consumers can take are to switch to

biodegradable plastics, reduce production with taxes, or to invest in new environmentally

friendly technologies. Overall, while unclear what the next step will be, producers and

consumers need to take action instead of dumping the pollution problem.

Research Methods and Data Collection:

Over the course of a few days, the researcher collected data about China’s waste ban and

recycling. The data collection was collected using a survey and tracking the amount of waste

imported to China. The Survey was distributed online to five different survey websites and had

respondents fill out the form. The survey was designed to measure people's awareness of the

problems of recycling and China’s import ban. The procedure for distributing the data was based

on region and time. Each survey was distributed at different times and areas in order to eliminate
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the bias of the same block of people responding. The data was analyzed based on whether or not

the surveyor was aware of the problems of recycling and if they supported a solution. Over the

course of months, the researcher collected data based on how much waste was imported into

China and also the amount of waste imported to other countries. The data was collected by

monitoring China, Vietnam, Malaysia, and other countries waste imports.

Results and Data Analysis:

Once the data was collected and put together the researcher was able to put together

graphs that show how the audience reacted. Data was also collected on waste imported to China

and other countries. The data collected from the survey shows that many people are unaware of

the problem with recycling that is occurring around them. Data collected from different countries

exports and imports show a large spike in imports of waste to countries such as Vietnam,

Malaysia, and Thailand with over a 1900% increase in waste imports after 2017. On the other

hand, China has stayed true to its restrictions and removed nearly all waste imports. The data

provides evidence that China’s import ban was successful, and that facing the coming waves of

waste smaller countries waste imports will be flooded. Research has shown that governments,

such as Vietnam, are planning to impose their own restrictions which could cause a chain

reaction which would ultimately make the problem worse. The product, a website can show

consumers the problems in an easy to read manner, and also ways they can contribute to solving

the waste problem.


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Conclusion:

Overall, if awareness is not brought to recycling and waste disposal then waste will

continue to accumulate in landfills and also be incinerated in mass. However, through the use of

biodegradable plastics and stricter government regulations the waste can be reduced. Consumers

can contribute to this be either lobbying the government or even just recycling what needs to be

recycled and nothing else. The data collected showed that not everyone was aware of the

problems surrounding them. However, the surveyors believed that the government should be the

ones to watch over the environment and take action. The product, a website is a perfect way to

educate and promote new information to curious readers. The website is able to show the data in

a creative way and also show initiatives that consumers could take.
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Citations

Brooks, Amy L., et al. “The Chinese Import Ban and Its Impact on Global Plastic Waste Trade.”

Science Advances,​ American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1 June 2018

Carrig, David. “The US Used to Ship 4,000 Recyclable Containers a Day to China. Where Will

the Banned Trash Go Now?” ​USA Today,​ Gannett Satellite Information Network, 22 June

2018.

Krugman, Paul R., and Robin Wells. ​Economics: Second Edition in Modules.​ Worth Publishers,

2012.

Parker, Laura, and Kennedy Elliott. “Plastic Recycling Is Broken. Here's How to Fix It.”

National Geographic,​ 20 June 2018.

Radcliffe, Brent. “The Basics of Tariffs And Trade Barriers” ​Investopedia,​ 8 Aug. 2018.

Redling, Adam, and DeAnne Toto. “China Announces Import Ban on an Additional 32 Scrap
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Materials.” ​Recycling Today,​ Recycling Today, 19 Apr. 2018

“Scientists Calculate Impact of China's Ban on Plastic Waste Imports.” ​Phys.org - News and

Articles on Science and Technology​, University of Georgia, 20 June 2018

Stevens, Eugene S. ​Green Plastics An Introduction to the New Science of Biodegradable

Plastics.​ Cheryl Baldwin Frech, 2002.

Szczepanski, Mallory. “Industry Associations Respond to China’s Expanded Waste Import Ban”

Waste 360,​ 20 Apr. 2018.

Tremblay, Jean-François. “China Restricts Imports of Plastic Trash.” ​Chemical and Engineering

News,​ 8 Jan. 2018.


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Copy of Survey​:

Survey Questions:

1. Which of the following do you feel represents the state that the recycling industry is in?
a. In great shape
b. In good shape
c. In poor shape
d. In critical State
2. What proportion of recycling do you feel ends up recycled?
a. Around 100 Percent
b. Around 75 Percent
c. Around 50 Percent
d. Around 25 Percent
e. Around 0 Percent
3. Who should be responsible for keeping the environment in good standing?
a. Government
b. Industries
c. Individuals
d. Environmental Groups
4. On a scale of 1-5, How Strongly do you support Biodegradable Plastics ( Plastics that
compose over time), 5 being Strong and 1 being low?
5. Do you support China’s Ban on multiple waste imports?
a. Yes
b. No
c. No Opinion
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Data Collected:

Choice a Choice b Choice c Choice d Choice e

Question One 6 31 11 2

Question 21 16 7 5 1
Two

Question 25 12 10 3
Three

Scale 1 Scale 2 Scale 3 Scale 4 Scale 5

Question 2 6 5 18 19
Four

Yes No No Opinion

Question Five 27 20 3
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Graphs:
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