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China’s New Scrap Ban Could Prove Detrimental to Global Textile Recycling Efforts

China seems to be set on banning imports of textile scraps in order to cut back on its own pollution, but the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) doesn’t like the idea at all and has taken it up with the World Trade Organization.

On Monday, ISRI submitted comments to the WTO, in response to China’s scrap ban, criticizing the nation’s move and saying the ban would curb global textile recycling progress, prevent China’s manufacturing sector from accessing these recyclable materials and minimize other eco-friendly opportunities for recycling.

“ISRI fully supports the efforts of the Chinese government to improve environmental protection and standards within its domestic recycling infrastructure. However, we disagree that a ban on the import of specification‐grade scrap materials will help with those efforts,” ISRI noted in its comments. “For recycled commodities such as recovered paper and fiber, plastic scrap, and copper scrap, China accounts for more than half of the world’s total imports.”

The material scraps China wants to ban, according to ISRI, are “very clearly valuable scrap commodities.”

[Read more about textile recycling: A Second Life: The Companies Helping Brands Engage in Textile Recycling]

As an advocate of global textile recycling, ISRI encourages free and fair trade, while opposing measures that restrict the free flow of commodities, including material scraps, worldwide. The organization said China needs to provide better clarification on what is considered waste or scraps and create clear regulations for the exporting community, so they know which products are allowed for import. What’s more, the organization also said the U.S. recycling industry supports China in reducing pollution and would be open to helping the nation in developing better domestic collection practices moving forward.

China’s ban on imported scraps could also take a toll on the industry’s recent textile recycling progress.

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This year, post-consumer textile recycling has come into play in a much more relevant way for apparel leaders worldwide, prompting companies to use more sustainable recycled fibers, promote a more circular economy and enable consumers to recycle their apparel after use. And this ban could put a strain on both China’s and the United States’ recycling sectors.

“With more than $5.2 billion in scrap commodities exported from the United States to China last year alone, the trade in specification-grade commodities between the United States and China is of critical importance to the health and success of the U.S.-based recycling industry and China’s manufacturing sector,” ISRI noted. “If implemented, a ban on scrap imports will result in the loss of tens of thousands of jobs and the closure of many recycling businesses throughout the United States.”

With its comments, ISRI is requesting a revision of the policy to avoid a disruption in trade, plus a clarification on what exactly China’s ban would prohibit in terms of imports.