Right to curb waste imports
China notified the World Trade Organization on Tuesday that it will stop accepting imports of 24 types of solid waste at the end of the year as part of its efforts to tackle environmental pollution and protect people’s health. In response to growing public concerns over the potential environmental and health hazards posed by the increasing amounts of solid waste imported into the country for recycling and treatment, China enacted a special law in 1995 to regulate imports of waste materials, such as plastics, slag from steelmaking, unsorted scrap paper and discarded textile materials.
A year later, the country published a catalog for solid waste imports and began implementing a permit system to control the import volumes and types of waste imported.
However, due to the lack of effective supervision and the failure of relevant departments to fulfill their duties, solid waste imports have not been effectively controlled.
So far, China is the world’s largest importer of solid waste. According to the Ministry of Environmental Protection, China imported 7.3 million metric tons of plastic waste worth $3.7 billion in 2016, accounting for 56 percent of global imports of solid waste.
Legitimate recycling of solid waste materials is an important part of the global economy, and moderate imports of scrap plastic, scrap paper and scrap rubber products, such as vehicle tires, can, to some extent, make up for China’s shortage of various raw materials.
However, the lack of supervision has contributed to the country’s severe soil and environmental degradation.
Given that China’s continuing efforts to push for industrial transformation and upgrading have resulted in a noticeable decline in the demand for the materials recycled from solid waste imports, it is right for the country to restrict such imports for the sake of the environment and public health, and to better adapt to the changed domestic industrial structure.