China has already banned the import of plastic waste for its recycling operations. That move led Chinese manufacturers to look elsewhere for materials used in expanding the country’s giant infrastructure. To account for the loss of materials, manufacturers began to dig, chop and import the raw materials needed to build. The result is a bit of a double-edged sword, as many argue that even the worst recycling sites are better than forests that have been clear-cut, oil fields and mines.
Now, China has banned more materials from being imported into the country. These items include old ships, scrap metal, timber and stainless steel.
The solid waste bans have been initiated because the materials have been deemed dangerous to the citizens’ physical health and harmful to the environment. But again, it’s a double-edged sword. China lacks the necessary mineral resources to keep up with the supply needed by its factories. The imported solid waste filled that void and helped keep the manufacturing industry in the country going. Now, China will have to consume more raw, virgin material.
Many believe that extracting those natural resources is going to do more harm to the environment than the massive recycling operations that have been used to date. If China is to keep up with its current level of manufacturing, it’s going to take a lot of resources. The potential for global impact is pretty significant.
First off, all of the metal and timber needed for China’s manufacturing will have to come from someplace, which will likely result in more clear-cutting and excess slag from increased smelting operations. Another, more obvious concern is the question of what will happen to the materials that have been traditionally imported to China for recycling. China doesn’t want to take in used and dirty plastics and other materials, the majority of which are single-use items. This could potentially lead to a global breakdown in recycling.
The finger shouldn’t be exclusively pointed at China for its decision to cut back on imported materials. The real answer here is a worldwide push for zero-waste products, thereby reducing the need for recycling in the first place.