Can MRFs meet China's new mixed paper standard?
08-04-2008
It is not yet clear why China has sudddenly tightened their definition for kerbside mixed paper imports other than to enforce environmental minimum standards.  However the global consequence for single stream (co-mingled) kerbside recovery may render most MRFs obsolete, or render single stream just too risky for export to China.

Any MRF processor will tell you that it is already impossible to meet CCIC inspection criteria globally.  The fact that CCIQ in China ignores any inspection certificate guarantee if they find any contamination in a bale of waste paper renders CCIC an expensive compliance for material monopolisation.

Whilst there are other markets for mixed kerbside, none can absorb the volume going into China, so it may well be source separation and retain margins or co-mingle and just accept the price for distress material for resorting in India, Indonesia or whoever will accept risky material.

Co-mingled collection has always been a seriously flawed choice and a more costly way of recycling.  It may suit local government to turn a blind eye to the true life cycle costs, ignoring return of contamination to landfill and OH&S issues at MRFs and paper mills from glass fines, needles and other health issues.

New generation MRFs are producing a cleaner mixed paper, however none can be perfect and why spend millions of dollars to have an imperfect process when source separation is more cost effective with no risk of rejection at its final destination.

In the medium term, if China maintains its strict standard for all imports, they will effectively close down small polluting mills, help to remove the threat of another SARS epidemic and improve the poor sorting environments at large mills who provide essential work for many communities.