Advances in automated sorting technology are making it possible to achieve exceptional purity results in plastics recycling – from colored and clear types of plastic, such as PET and HDPE, to other polymers like polypropylene, polystyrene and PVC. As long as the right legislation, infrastructure and, in particular, the right combination of sorting technology is in place, it is possible to achieve previously unfeasible purity levels of over 99.99% on single polymer streams.
This material will not only be able to be shipped internationally without prior consent, but it will also command a much higher market price than mixed plastics, so there are both commercial and legislative drivers for separating and sorting mixed plastics into single streams.
China’s decision to ban on solid waste imports
Another piece of waste legislation which came into force at the start of 2021 is China’s ban on imports of solid wastes, including plastics, paper products and textiles. China has been an important final destination for these materials for the last 40 years, but its policy for limiting imported recovered materials began back in 2013 and the most recent decision to ban solid waste imports reflects the Chinese authorities’ commitment to promoting more recycling of domestic material and reducing the nation’s reliance on imports.
China’s decision to ban solid waste imports will have far-reaching consequences for waste operators who have, until now, relied on China as an end market for their material. This latest move follows on the back of other countries, including Malaysia, Thailand and India taking steps to ban imports of plastic waste and, in some countries, the import of mixed papers.
As with the Basel Convention Plastic Waste Amendments, failure to comply with China’s new solid waste import ban may result in hefty fines for both the waste carrier and the importer set to between RMB 500,000 (equivalent to approximately US$71, 000) and RMB 5 million (equivalent to approximately US$710, 000). Customs authorities will also order the solid wastes to be returned to the place of export for disposal.
Those waste operators who historically depended on exporting this material to China – or to other countries that have also now banned these materials – will now have to either find new end markets for their solid waste materials or invest in sorting technology to achieve the exceptionally high purity rates that China requires for solid wastes in order to grant an import license.
Let’s look at the example of waste paper products. China has historically been the largest waste paper importing market in the world, but now it will only grant import licenses for waste paper that has a purity level greater than 99.5%. This means that those operators who wish to continue exporting their waste paper to China will have to increase and invest in their sorting, deinking and recycling efforts.
This can be achieved by taking advantage of the latest advances in sensor-based technology for paper recycling to sort non-paper from paper and also produce high purity end fractions of different paper grades, such as brown cardboard, printed cartons, plastic-coated cartons, dyed paper, newsprint and four-colour printed (CMYK) paper. Sensor-based sorting can enable waste operators to continue exporting their material to China or, should they prefer, find alternative in-country or overseas routes to market where their material will command a much higher market price as a result of its purity levels.