Nearly 3% of world loaded container traffic, or
around 4-5 million TEU, could be at risk from becoming landfill following
China’s decision to turn away “foreign garbage”.
Having given notice in July 2017, China has
placed stricter quality thresholds on a range of waste imports. The new rules
were implemented on January 1 and will become enforceable on March 1.
Shipping consultancy Drewry said that China’s
policy shift is bad news for ocean carriers that are tasked with moving the
waste materials. Concerned that laden boxes of waste paper might stand on
the quay in China for lengthy periods of time, pending further investigation of
contents, several lines decided to tighten up their procedures for the
acceptance of bookings in the first place.
According to one major carrier that Drewry spoke
with, the company was braced for some volume loss after China gave notice to
the WTO in July, but the impact on backhaul shipments “has been
negligible so far.” That situation does not appear to be limited to
that single line as trade flow statistics out of the US and Europe did not veer
off normal seasonal trends at the back end of 2017.
While the disruption to shipping might have been
limited thus far, the carrier source did concede that they remain concerned
about the situation as waste products can make up half of backhaul voyages. The
carrier is most fearful for the most heavily-exposed westbound Transpacific
“It is unclear at this
early stage whether China’s new waste quality thresholds can be attained, which
puts significantly more tonnage at risk of being incinerated or put into
landfill rather than boarding containerships. Other backhaul cargoes,
particularly foodstuffs, will ease the pain for shipping lines,” Drewry
The Chinese government says that turning away
“foreign garbage” will protect the environment. But analysts seem to point out
that most of the “foreign garbage” which is consumed by China’s recycling
industry comes from domestic sources, not imports. As for the millions of tonnes of waste that will soon be blocked at
China’s border, some of the high-quality waste will find buyers in other
countries such as Malaysia, Vietnam or Indonesia. The rest will probably end up
in a landfill.