Home / Initiatives / China Waste

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 Provides Update on Impact of China's Waste Import Restrictions on Recycling Programs

Jun 13, 2018, 00:00 AM by MatrixGroup Admin

June 13, 2018

Sara Swanson
Marketing Coordinator

SWANA Provides Update on Impact of China's Waste Import Restrictions on Recycling Programs
Working with Stakeholders in the United States and Canada on Education Efforts

Silver Spring, MD – The Solid Waste Association of North America’s (SWANA) has issued an update for state and provincial environmental agencies on China’s waste import restrictions and their impact on recycling programs in North America.

This update, the third in a series to agencies on the issue, provides an overview of the effect that the restrictions are having on the export of recyclables from the U.S. and Canada, including the increased movement of material to Southeast Asian countries and additional potential restrictions.

“The deepening impact of China’s waste import restrictions is being felt in a growing number of communities,” said David Biderman, SWANA’s Executive Director and CEO. “In addition to the ban on certain materials and the new stringent contamination standard, China temporarily halted pre-shipment inspections in May. Combined with new limitations by other Asian countries receiving more recyclables from the U.S., the result has been lower prices and continued uncertainty about the long-term sustainability of recycling programs. SWANA feels it is important to continue to update key stakeholders on this evolving situation.”

SWANA has taken numerous steps to respond to the disruption caused by China’s waste import restrictions. These include the establishment of a Recycling Task Force consisting of industry and municipal leaders, advocacy on Capitol Hill for recycling-related funding in the Infrastructure bill, consulting with associations and other organizations that support recycling, and developing a China Waste Import Restrictions webpage of resources.

“For the past several decades, China has served as the end-market for roughly a third of the world’s recyclables, and its new policy banning mixed plastics and mixed paper has created a global over-supply of paper on the world market,” said Susan Robinson, Director of Federal Affairs for Waste Management and member of SWANA’s Recycling Task Force. “This supply and demand imbalance, combined with China’s new 0.5 percent contamination standard, has increased the quality requirements for recyclables, whether they are moving to domestic markets or to other alternative markets. Until new markets develop, stakeholders will need to work together to develop solutions that will support our local recycling programs.”

Robinson and Biderman will continue the discussion during the June 28 webinar, Beyond China: Building the Future of Recycling. They will be joined by Robert Smouse, Assistant Director of Solid Waste for the City of Fort Worth, Texas. These industry experts will examine the ways in which the recycling landscape in the United States and Canada has changed dramatically as we approach the one-year mark since China announced its first set of waste restrictions.

The focus on education surrounding these policy changes will continue at the 2018 Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) Summit, to be held at SWANA’s WASTECON® conference August 20–23 in Nashville, Tennessee, a joint effort with the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI). At the MRF Summit, waste industry leaders, state and local government officials, manufacturers, and others will discuss best practices, policy alternatives, standardizing recycling metrics, and ISRI’s scrap specifications.

Click here to view the full letter to United States agencies and click here to view the full letter to Canadian agencies.

For more information on SWANA and China’s waste import restrictions, click here.


About SWANA:

The Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) is an organization of more than 10,000 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

Related Products


Beyond China: Building the Future of Recycling

Member Price: $49.00
Non-Member Price: $94.00