Port operations in South-east Asia have come under
increasing pressure from a build-up in scrap cargo, following China’s crackdown on
China brought in new rules on 1 January,
applying from 1 March, which will see a complete ban on the import of
unsorted waste paper, Vanadium slag and waste textiles, as well
as wide-ranging restrictions on other recyclable materials such as a
steel, plastics, wood, paper and cardboard.
In Vietnam, a dramatic increase in scrap-laden containers forced
Ho Chi Minh City’s overloaded Cat Lai port to temporarily stop receiving
plastic and paper waste on 1 June.
In a letter to customers, terminal operator Saigon Newport said
handling operations had been “seriously impacted” by 8,000 teu of uncollected
scrap cargo, resulting in temporary overcapacity. The terminal had previously
restricted imports for a month in a bid to clear the backlog, but to no avail.
The problem appears to be a lack of valid
import permits for the cargo, with the customs department clamping down on an
increasing number of import violations this year, according to local media.
One local forwarder told The Loadstar the
containers were being “re-routed via Vietnam and then smuggled via road into
He claimed: “This has caused a big problem as not all containers
could be transferred to China. Some traders are waiting to shift the containers
to other countries. For example, Chinese companies have opened or are building
factories in other ASEAN countries, like Malaysia.”
Roy Chau, general manager CH Robinson Vietnam, said the scrap
shipments were exacerbating existing port congestion at Cat Lai, one of
Vietnam’s busiest container gateways.
“In fact, plastic waste is not the main issue affecting
forwarding operations, as port congestion at Cat Lai happened for years due
terminal infrastructure, traffic in the surrounding area, vessel delays and
cargo weight limit for trucking,” he said.
Glenn Kong, general director at nearby Vietnam International
Container Terminals (VICT), said VICT had been unaffected since it had
implemented policies to limit the dwell time of scrap containers.
He added: “The recent Chinese ban on plastic
imports continues its impact around the world. Scrap is being diverted to other
markets, particularly to many South-east Asian countries such as Malaysia and
Vietnam. However, tonnes of plastic waste will end up in landfill, due to an
absence of anywhere else to send it.
Until this year, China was by far the biggest recipient of
scrap, importing around half of the world’s plastic waste. In 2016, China imported around 30m tonnes of
waste paper and 8m tonnes of waste plastics. However, a ban on plastic
and a variety of other waste materials, announced last July, came into
force in January and was expanded in April. This left US and European
exporters in particular scrambling to find new markets.
US Census Bureau figures show recovered plastic exports to
Vietnam in the first quarter were almost double that of the same period last
year. And in Thailand, an increase in scrap cargo arriving at Laem Chabang has
put pressure on authorities to ramp-up inspections. According to the Bangkok
Post, local police discovered 58 tonnes of illegal plastic from 35 countries
A Laem Chabang-based port executive claimed there had been no
impact from increased scrap cargo on terminal operations so far, but Thai
customs were stepping up inspections.
“My guess is that customs around the region may be doing the
same thing, as this is unlikely to be a problem confined to Thailand,” he
Shipping lines are also feeling the effects of China’s change in
policy. In its first-quarter report, Maersk Line highlighted the ban as one
reason Asian exports from the US and Europe had declined significantly. And in
an update sent to The Loadstar, the carrier said: “We do see decreases on
volumes of waste imports into China.
“However, waste volumes to South-east Asia increased. Finished
paper from South-east Asia to China also increased as a sign of change in