August 20, 2020

China to completely ban all imports of solid waste

Pictured: mounds of scrap, which will soon be completely unwelcome in China. Photo: by Michael Gaida from Pixabay

Imports of all solid waste into China will be completely banned effective 1 January 2021, according to the Steamship Mutual P&I Club. The existing licensing regime for the import of solid wastes will therefore no longer apply from that date.

The ban will even apply to solid wastes that can be re-used or re-cycled into raw materials, such as cargoes of scrap metal, paper, cardboard and wood.

However, media reports indicate that scrap metals and other such goods may possibly be re-classified as recyclable materials and that would be subject to purity standards.

China also intends to run down the import volumes of solid wastes during the remainder of this year.

Interim waste control changes

In the interim, the existing laws on the prevention and control of pollution by solid waste will be modified as of 1 September, (which is less than two weeks away).

Current Chinese law broadly bans the import, dumping and disposal of solid wastes but grants exemptions for certain waste products. Exempted wastes are subject to a licensing regime.

Joint and several liability

Existing law imposes liability of the carrier for the return and disposal of prohibited solid wastes imported by sea when it is not possible to identify the importer.

The newly-revised law will impose joint and several liability on the carrier and the importer, which means that the carrier can be held liable even if the importer can be identified.

If the carrier and importer either refuse to return the solid waste, or do not arrange to return it three months, the authorities will take measures against the importer and carrier to return the waste.

When solid waste cannot be returned, or when Customs decides to not return it, then the waste will be disposed of by the authorities.

Costs and fines

The carrier and importer will bear joint and several liability for the costs incurred if the authorities have to dispose of waste. The revised law will also significantly boost the value of financial penalties imposed for violations.

Additional fines will also apply if the carriage of prohibited waste leads to pollution.

Transiting and minor wastes

Solid waste that is not also hazardous waste can transit through China’s territory provided it is not discharged in a Chinese port; wastes that are discharged and that will transit through China will require an import licence.

The revised law will also apply when the waste has been mis-declared by the shipper but the carrier may contest any fine imposed. Minor importations of prohibited solid waste that is corrected in a timely manner and which does not result in harm will not be fined. However, the carrier and the importer will both remain jointly and severally liable for the return and disposal of prohibited waste.

Maritime matters

In the event of a marine casualty, it is possible that any of the cargoes, any onboard machinery and the hull of the vessel itself, may be deemed to be solid waste and will need to be disposed of in accordance with Chinese law.

The revised law does not apply to the marine environment, which is subject to other Chinese law.

Steamship commentary

The Steamship P&I Club advises that carriers “trading in this region are encouraged to exercise caution and remain vigilant for any activity which may fall within the scope of the PRC Law on the Prevention and Control of Environmental Pollution by Solid Wastes. Customs are expected to increase the inspections of cargo and the quarantine of the imported solid waste in an effort to enforce the new law. Members are advised to conduct thorough due diligence, carefully checking a request to transport any kind of waste into China in order to avoid being suspected of smuggling and therefore avoid potential fines for violations of the law”.

Further details, recommendations and advice can be sought from the the Steamship Mutual P&I Club.

Further reading

Club Circular L.358 New Revised People’s Republic of China (PRC) Law on the Prevention and Control of Environmental Pollution by Solid Wastes – effective 1 September 2020“, Steamship Mutual, August 2020.

中华人民共和国固体废物污染环境防治法” original text of “Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Prevention and Control of Environmental Pollution by Solid Waste” [in simplified Mandarin], The Central People’s Government of the People’s Republic of China.



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