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China Waste

In 2017 and 2018, the Chinese government implemented a series of waste import restrictions limiting or banning a variety of recyclable material that had previously been accepted for processing. The restriction of the flow of materials has created new challenges throughout the supply chain of scrap—residents, solid waste departments, material recovery facilities (MRFs), processors, end users and beyond. This webpage provides an overview of these challenges and provides updates on SWANA’s efforts to help support North American recycling through this transition.

NPR’s On Point — Global Recycling Is A Dumpster Fire. Literally

Listen to SWANA CEO & Executive Director David Biderman’s interview with Megan Chakrabarti on NPR’S On Point on March 14, 2019.

SWANA Resources: China Waste Import Restrictions Infographics

Download printable infographics in exchange for contact information.



A timeline of Chinese waste initiatives from 2013–2018.

How to Take Action


Action items for local governments and recycling managers.

Materials Affected


Most common recycling materials affected by the China waste import restrictions.

Recycling Infrastructure


U.S. Recycling: Building America’s infrastructure through sustainability.

SWANA In the News: China Waste Import Restrictions

In the News: China Waste Import Restrictions

SWANA Resources: China Waste Import Restrictions

Letters to State and Provincial Environmental Agency Leadership

Press Releases

SWANA Urges China to Delay Implementation of Import Restrictions

Dec 15, 2017, 00:00 AM by MatrixGroup Admin


December 15, 2017

Sara Swanson
Marketing Coordinator

SWANA Urges China to Delay Implementation of Import Restrictions
Filing with WTO Details Impacts on Recycling in U.S. & Canada, Questions Validity of Proposed Standards, and Seeks Meeting with China MEP

Silver Spring, MD – The Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) has submitted comments to the World Trade Organization urging China to delay implementation of its waste import restrictions scheduled to take effect in early 2018. SWANA’s request is included in its response to the November 15, 2017 Notification from China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP).

SWANA’s comments highlight the significant impact China’s waste import restrictions have already had on municipal solid waste recycling programs in parts of the U.S. and Canada, urging the Chinese government to suspend the implementation of the restrictions until no earlier than January 1, 2022.

“With 2018 nearly upon us, recycling programs from coast to coast are being adversely affected by China’s actions,” stated David Biderman, SWANA Executive Director and CEO. “Plastic film is being warehoused, recyclables in Oregon are going to landfills, and the uncertainty created by China’s actions has created a significant disruption. While we call on China to postpone implementation, we also call on recycling companies and local governments to ensure they are generating high quality material that satisfies legitimate environmental concerns; this may require investment in additional equipment or personnel, slowing down the line, and increasing and improving education to residents and business.”

The proposed 0.5% contamination standard for waste imports was proposed without seeking input from any foreign stakeholders and is not based on any internationally accepted standard or specification. SWANA requests that MEP explain the basis for the carried-waste 0.5% contamination standard.

“The proposed contamination standard is not practical to achieve even at the most state of the art facilities in North America,” said Jeff Murray, SWANA’s International President. “While modifications to the collection, sorting, and processing of mixed residential recyclable materials can improve the quality of the feedstock produced, it will be unable to achieve the levels the Chinese have proposed. The proposed implementation schedule is unfair, and we are seeking more time to assess potential changes and what standard can be achieved.”

SWANA’s comments express strong support for China’s efforts to protect and improve their environmental conditions and requests the Chinese government meet with industry stakeholders from the U.S., Canada, and other exporting countries to develop a mutually satisfactory carried-waste contamination standard and a timeline for implementation, in order to help China achieve its overall environmental health objectives.

“China’s actions are affecting recycling operations throughout Canada, and I am very pleased that SWANA is taking the lead raising concerns with the WTO, China, and the Canadian government,” said Allen Lynch, SWANA’s Canadian Representative.

To view SWANA’s full comments in response to China’s November 15, 2017 Notification, click here.


About SWANA:

The Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) is an organization of more than 9,000 public and private sector professionals committed to advancing from solid waste management to resource management through their shared emphasis on education, advocacy and research. For more than 50 years, SWANA has been the leading association in the solid waste management field. SWANA serves industry professionals through technical conferences, certifications, publications, and a large offering of technical training courses. For more information, visit



Waste Dive 50 State Survey

Connex boxes marked with China flag

A state-by-state breakdown of how recycling programs and markets have responded since National Sword.

View the Survey

From Green Fence to Red Alert: A China Timeline

Montage from fence to China flag

Timeline of events surrounding the Chinese import policies and how they continue to reshape materials recovery around the planet.

View Timeline

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