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China's Scrap Trade Policy


The Issue


The Chinese government is undertaking an effort to reform its solid waste management system, including implementing prohibitions and restrictions on scrap imports.  The intent is to:

  • Protect the environment from imports that are perceived to be the most polluting;
  • Halt imports that can be replaced with domestic resources;
  • Enforce existing trash import prohibitions;
  • Crack down on illegal trade of trash and poor recycling business practices within China; and
  • Accelerate China’s domestic recycling industry.

ISRI supports the Chinese government’s efforts to protect the environment and supports efforts to eliminate illegal trash dumping. ISRI has offered to be a conduit of information for its members to comply with Chinese regulations and to provide information and training to the Chinese industry of best practices in environmental, health, safety and overall business management to help enhance recycling within China.  However, trade in scrap commodities contributes to the well-being of the planet by allowing recyclable materials to be directed to where recycling capacity is located; China’s import restrictions prevent the completion of the closed loop economy supported by recycling.

ISRI also supports efforts by the governments of China and the United States to negotiate an agreement that will end the trade dispute, remove tariffs and provide certainty in the international marketplace.

Why it Matters to Recycling

A strong and robust recycling industry is critical to a healthy manufacturing sector. The U.S. scrap industry is a significant exporter of high-quality scrap commodities to industrial consumers worldwide. The steady growth in China’s industrial economy led to an ever-increasing demand for scrap supplied from the United States and around the world. As a result of China’s industrial production, plastic and paper scrap consumption had increased 50% and 70%, respectively, in the last decade; scrap metal consumption has also increased.  By 2017, 31% percent of U.S. scrap commodity exports – worth $5.6 billion – were sent to China.


As part of China’s environmental protection drive, the government is implementing a range of trade-restrictive measures:

  • A ban on scrap plastics from household collections and unsorted, mixed paper from all sources beginning in 2018;
  • A ban on all plastics, small electric motors and insulated wire beginning in 2019;
  • New import permitting requirements for certain ferrous and nonferrous metal scrap beginning July 2019;
  • A ban on stainless steel and other metallic scrap beginning in 2020.

In addition, the Chinese government implemented stricter technical standards for scrap imports beginning in March 2018, allowing only shipments that meet very strict thresholds for allowable contaminants to be imported. Unfortunately, existing technology makes meeting those targets a challenge for most scrap commodities.

Through these policies and additional measures, such as through its import licensing and quota system, the Chinese government is curtailing the free and fair trade of scrap commodities into China, which has had a widespread impact on global scrap commodities markets.



  • Following on its notification to the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Government of China officially announced on July 21, 2017, it has "banned the importation of 24 categories of solid waste such as waste plastics, unsorted waste paper, waste raw textile materials, and vanadium slag that pose very high risk of environmental pollution."
  • On Tuesday, July 18, 2017, China notified the World Trade Organization (WTO) of its intent to ban the import of certain scrap materials by year end. Among the items included on the list are most scrap plastics ("including polymers of ethylene, styrene, vinyl chloride and PET..."), mixed paper and slags and drosses.

China in the News


Have Questions?

Adina Renee Adler
Assistant Vice President, International Affairs
(202) 662-8514