By now, most everyone in the solid waste industry and many outside the industry are familiar with China’s National Sword Policy, which became effective in February 2018. The bans, restrictions and tougher contamination standards are an effort by China to improve air quality, reduce pollution and prevent illegal waste smuggling.
In the short-term, National Sword and other policy changes are creating major challenges for U.S. recyclers to find new markets or reduce contamination in their materials (since 1992, China has imported 106 million metric tons of plastic waste, or 45% of all plastic waste). In some areas, recyclable materials are ending up in landfills, and municipalities are canceling curbside recycling programs.
Over the long-term, it will change the way the U.S. deals with its waste, and hopefully create opportunities for innovation and the development of new domestic markets. A new international organization, the Global Alliance to End Plastic Waste, was established earlier this year to develop solutions to end plastic waste in the environment, with a focus on the ocean.