The effect of China’s import restrictions on solid waste from scrapyards and how can we help

Recent  import restrictions on foreign waste imposed by the Chinese Government have had enormous global impact, leaving recycling companies outside of China to scramble on how to dispose of solid waste that had been accepted by China for the past 25 years.

Whilst the Chinese environment ministry is planning to restructure the domestic recycling industry, encouraging domestic recyclers to shift from being small and scattered to developed high-quality organizations, it does mean that individual nations can no longer export solid waste such as paper, plastic and metal waste to China.

This is causing a major rethink in local recycling and waste management programs, especially in the U.S. Some local U.S. governments have either curtailed, halted or all together stopped accepting solid waste, causing residents to simply throw recyclable waste in the trash. This is threatening to intensify the already massive waste problem posed by a throwaway culture.

To say this has shaken up the recycling industry is an understatement. Along with plastic and paper, the nonferrous scrap metal market has been hit hard too. For the rest of the world, and especially U.S., what this restriction has meant is that it’s more important than ever to know the composition of metals in your scrapyard, as that will help to maximize your profits. And we can help with that.

The trade-off between restricting waste and needing feedstock

It’s only been two years since China announced the intention to stop accepting shipments of solid waste to the world trade organization. The new regulations are still in a state of flux as regions are developing new strategies and programs to handle the waste.

Since the beginning of 2019, imports of low-grade copper scrap (Category 7 metals falling under (HS) codes 7404 and 7602 – which need extra processing), such as coiled cable and motors, have been banned. And from 1st July 2019, new restrictions on metal imports came into force, labelled Category 6 “smelter ready” items, such as high-grade copper, aluminum and some steels.

However, high-grade copper, aluminum and steel are important feedstocks for China’s manufacturing industry and cutting off imported scrap metal completely could have serious consequences for China’s production.

To address this, China’s environmental ministry has allowed companies to import Category 6, scrap metals provided they apply for import licenses. To obtain a license, importing companies must show that they meet environmental standards for storing and processing metal scrap and that they have not violated environmental regulations in the last two years. Companies importing these metals under license have so far obtained permission to bring in 240,000 tons of copper scrap, 54,000 tons of aluminum scrap and 15,000 tons of steel scrap.


More waste to deal with

It has fallen to scrapyards in the U.S. to test and sort the increased amount of waste material that has nowhere else to go. This gives them a double challenge: a greater volume of scrap to wade through, and the need to sort materials meticulously in order to find new markets for their metals. This means a step-up in material testing capability for established and new yards alike.

In an interesting twist in the ongoing saga of the waste restrictions, Chinese companies are now investing in recycling plants located in the U.S. to ensure a constant supply of much needed raw material. Plus, that raw material is required to meet tight specifications, with impurity level of 0.5% or less.

Equally for a lot of South East Asian countries like Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Laos and Cambodia this shift will mean new opportunities as more scrap starts being shipped their way as Chinese companies move their operations to these countries, especially where its easy to ship it back to China. But as the infrastructure isn’t there yet, this will be a huge business growth opportunity for all.

How we can help

While it’s still possible to ship waste metal to China, as long as it meets the 0.5% specification for impurities. For scrapyards, this means having the ability to test for tramp and trace elements on site.

Hitachi High-Tech’s range of stationary spark OES analyzers are ideal for high accuracy analysis when there is an override of chemical tolerances that needs precise analysis. As an example, Pb at maximum 20ppm or Sn at 100ppm in steel scrap.

We’ve recently launched the ground-breaking stationary spark OE750 metals analyzer which is another tool to help scrapyards to control tramp and trace elements in the lowest ppm range to meet the increased scrap metal base material needs of foundries and secondary metal production.

Want to find out more? Download our case study on why Jansen Recycling chose the FOUNDRY-MASTER Pro2 OES analyzer

Equally, if your challenge is being able to sort through scrap fast, then Hitachi’s handheld Vulcan laser analyzer is the fastest way to sort high volumes of metal scrap that are constantly arriving at yards. About the size and shape of a handheld drill, with a long battery life, you can take a measurement with the Vulcan one second. And with no X-rays, you can hold samples in your hand during the measurement, making the whole process faster with minimal hassle.

Want to find out more?

Watch why TNT Scrap chose the Vulcan expert for their scrapyard in Brooklyn, NY.


The shake-up of the scrap metals industry is not over, and new regulations are on the horizon. At the end of 2019, new restrictions for stainless steel, tungsten, magnesium and titanium were introduced. It’s never been more important for scrapyards to know exactly what type of metals are arriving at their door. Make sure you have the analytical equipment needed to identify the grade and composition of scrap metal and find the right market for recycling.

For more information on how our range of analyzers can make high-volume metals sorting easier, get in touch.

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Date: 13 February 2020

Author: Jordan Rose, Marketing Manager Americas

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