China stops taking other nations waste; time to cut New Zealand’s waste

In a move that I believe is as much about standing up for itself and no longer wanting to be the dumping ground of other nations waste, as about rebuking the west, the People’s Republic of China will no longer accept other nations waste.

Officially the move comes as China attempts to address industrial pollution caused by its many factories and inefficient environmental compliance. It announced in July 2017 that it would no longer take international waste, with a ban on 24 separate kinds of waste.

This is an issue that can be seen from multiple angles if one will. One of those angles is that China in the past might have had a market for recyclable waste because matching demand for products such as mirror frames, furniture and other items was so great that recycled products from overseas were deemed acceptable. The market might have reduced in size, but is unlikely to have collapsed. A completely different perspective is one that I think might be the driver of this, and that is that China has simply decided it generates enough waste on its own that the demand for products can be met by using the domestic waste stream. A third, perhaps ideologically driven angle could be that this is simply an ideological rebuke of western market economics, driven by ideologues in the Chinese Government.

Whatever the case, this has serious implications for the waste generation and export market world wide. New Zealand is absolutely no exception to the rule and in fact, with a lax “she’ll be right” attitude to recycling and reducing our ecological footprint, we are likely to be one of the worse hit nations as a result of this decision. It raises a number of questions that we need to consider with urgency:

  • Where will the waste that China accepts each year go now?
  • Where will New Zealand put the waste that we would have otherwise sent to China?
  • How are we going to address the larger waste production problem in this country?

Individual New Zealanders have a huge ecological footprint made by the materials we consume. Whether its plastics with oils in them, wood furniture or electronics with rare earth minerals in them, New Zealand, like every other western country has a footprint that is not sustainable – in fact if every person on the planet tried to live like a New Zealander we would need 95% of another Earth type planet to provide all of the materials needed to sustain this rate of consumption. But there is no Planet B within reach.

Governments – no doubt this one, and certainly its recent predecessors – say they are committed to environmentally responsible practices. If that were the case, we would have long since introduced legislation to amend consumer law to encourage and provide for more proactive recycling practices; a much bigger investment in researching energy production based on the waste stream and not fossil fuels. We have not because “she’ll be right” is the prevalent thought stream in New Zealand politics and is one of the primary reasons why this country has slipped in the last 30 years.


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