National Sword Information

Change is Coming: Preparing For China’s National Sword Policy

In order to keep our diverse membership informed about important issues facing our industry in the Carolinas and beyond, CRA has prepared the following information.  Please contact us with questions or comments.

What is National Sword? 

In 2013, China implemented a policy known as Green Fence, enacting more stringent regulations requiring an increase in quality of recyclables entering the country. These regulations primarily impacted plastics and paper; however, other commodities were also required to decrease contamination.  This summer, China has continued their push to clean up recyclables entering their country through the National Sword policy.

Through the National Sword policy, China notified the World Trade Organization of its intent to ban the import of items such as mixed plastic, plastics that once contained food, rigid plastics, and mixed paper as of January 1, 2018. In addition, all recyclable commodities still allowed in the country are required to meet a 0.3% or less contamination limit. This aggressive quality goal creates uncertainty about what recyclable commodities China will accept given the current contamination rates found in parts of the US.

With both the Green Fence and the National Sword policies, the government of China is working to clean up the recyclables imported into the country and encourage the development of their domestic recycling markets. While both of these goals are laudable, the speed at which the National Sword policy is being executed is concerning for the recycling industry in the United States.

How Does National Sword Impact The USA? 

It is uncertain exactly how National Sword will affect recycling in the US, and it will likely vary regionally and by recycling sector.  China buys a great deal of US recyclables.  For example, in 2016, China accounted for 27 percent of all global scrap imports, with paper and plastics comprising the largest volumes of material received for recycling. That year, the US recovered 52.6 million tons of paper – including cardboard, newspaper, curbside mixed paper, and other commercial and industrial paper products. China imported over 25 percent of those fiber products as feedstock for their paper mills. The swift execution of National Sword has US recyclers concerned not only about viable markets for their recyclables, but also for current Chinese recycling processors ability to locate high quality feedstock.

How Does National Sword Impact the Carolinas?

We are fortunate in the Carolinas to have strong regional markets for many of the materials that are being targeted by the upcoming Chinese restrictions and bans.  While the National Sword policy will surely impact our ability to trade some recyclable materials, we will work diligently through the potential disruption in markets and resolve the issue through our resilience, preparation and commitment to clean recycling.  Interest groups are currently working with the Chinese to lessen the impact of the policy while respecting the needs of China’s recycling industry.  It is impossible to predict the impact of National Sword as the Chinese government has not clarified the particulars of this policy, but preparing for change and staying informed is essential.

Moving Forward with National Sword

To help stem concerns for the US recycling industry, recyclers and citizens should work to ensure all are recycling the right items. A list of your local recyclable items may be found here – By sticking to this list, the quality of recyclables will increase, allowing for the continuation of those commodities to be processed and reused.  Collectors and local governments can assist in this effort by increasing curbside education and enforcement for cleaner materials going to Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs).

MRFs must continue to be diligent in sorting and preparing materials for market. Domestic market development also needs to be explored to bolster local processing options. Encouraging the development of local infrastructure instead of relying on international markets will help the long-term strength of the US recycling industry.

The CRA will provide updates regarding this situation on our website and in our newsletter as well as media links and webinars as they become available.  Follow us on Facebook for the latest updates.

Additional Resources:

The Recycling Partnership informational website and National Sword Webinar registration

China’s Green Sword: Impacts to State and Local Governments

CRA’s Recycling Business Connections, December 6th: Register Now!

State Resources:

SC Department of Commerce

NC DEACS Recycling Business Assistance Center