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China and Recycled Paper

Over the few months, we have written on CalRecycle achieve a 75 percent reduction of solid waste flowing to landfills by the year 2020. As part of that strategy, CalRecycle focused on source reduction and increased recycling of various paper products.

Since 1998, California has shipped a significant amount of recyclable materials to China. In 2016, for example, 62 percent of the more than 15 million tons of recyclable materials that were shipped from California was sent to China.

In July 2917, however, China unexpectedly announced a new policy called National Sword, which banned the import of 24 recyclable materials that were contaminated and had to be disposed in Chinese landfills. China banned 24 materials from further import. Mixed paper, cardboard and paperboard make up 59% of recycled material shipped, with 85 percent going to China–all of which are used in some form in the printing and packaging industry.

National Sword is already starting to have adverse impacts on California, and will result in more material being disposed in landfills or in the closure of in-state recycling facilities. In addition, changes in China’s policies will likely have an impact on California’s economy, as recyclable materials exported from California had a total vessel value of $4.6 billion in 2016.

Given National Sword, CalRecycle is rethinking its initial approach to reduce waste going to the landfill through recycling. New proposals likely will now focus on extended producer responsibility (fees), source reduction (less packaging, thus less printing), pay-as-you through (higher fees on residents), and higher tipping fees. No matter what proposals finally emerge, they likely will have a direct impact on paper and indirectly on printing (financially and otherwise).

Recommendation: We’ll continue keep you informed by actively participating in the various stages of developing CalRecycle paper and plastic packaging recommendation.

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