This year China announced to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that it planned to urgently ban foreign garbage imports. This could signify a major shift in the international movement of waste. Last year China imported 7.3 million tonnes of waste plastics alone, which accounts for 56 percent of world imports; it’s a billion-dollar industry and China is the world number 1 customer.

China has found that the solid wastes they import have a high percentage of dirty or hazardous contaminants polluting what could otherwise be used as raw materials. This is causing serious pollution to their environment, and risk to their workers. In response China is seeking to urgently adjust its solid waste import list. Among the imports to be banned are waste plastics, paper, steel-making slag, wool, ash, cotton and yarn.

It isn’t something we frequently consider, but waste products can be valuable. One of the topics to be covered in the upcoming National Sustainability in Business Conference 2018 is ‘Waste as a resource’. It will be interesting to see how China stepping back could change such a huge industry. Here’s to hoping it will encourage us to take a second look at how we process our waste resources.