The US-based Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) has called on China to delay implementation of proposed scrap import standards over fears they will disrupt global supply chains.

In comments submitted to the World Trade Organization (WTO), the ISRI says it is concerned that the draft standards (so-called GB standards), issued by China last month, will disrupt the global economy because they are not in line with the internationally recognised ISRI specifications and lack specific guidance for exporters.

China is proposing to ban imports of a variety of solid waste – including textiles – from the end of 2017, with a six-month transition period. It says the new measure is part of a policy aimed at addressing risks of pollution from solid waste, and seeks to protect the environment and human health.

ISRI says that while it supports the Chinese Government's strategy to improve the environment and encourage sustainable recycling, a ban would damage the recycling potential of the textile industry and ultimately lead to more waste.

In the WTO submission, ISRI president Robin Wiener requests specific, written guidance on the definition of "other carried waste," suggests that the allowable percentages align with ISRI Specifications and requests more time to allow for global suppliers to understand the regulations for adequate compliance.

"ISRI understands that at the heart of China's an effort to identify what is 'garbage' so that China can rightfully prevent such material from entering the country," wrote Wiener in the submission.

"We suggest the Chinese Government revise its GB standards to very specifically define what is intended to be minimised in terms of the percentages listed, giving particular attention to distinguishing between unusable trash that should have gone to a landfill and recyclable materials."

Wiener notes: "Each proposed GB standard also contains a catch-all restriction for 'other carried-wastes' with a set threshold for the allowable percentage by weight. It is this last restriction that has raised concerns within ISRI and the global recycling industry as the percentages proposed are in many cases (but not all) out of line with global norms and established manufacturing tolerances.

"ISRI respectfully suggests that the Chinese Government delay its implementation of the proposed GB standards for a time period consistent with WTO guidelines. Extra time is required for recyclers to fully understand China's changing scrap import regulations and to make the necessary changes to comply with these new rules."

In 2016, China accounted for 27% of global scrap imports. And with more than $5.2bn in scrap commodities exported from the US to China last year alone, the trade between the two countries is of "critical importance" to the health and success of the US-based recycling industry and China's manufacturing sector, ISRI says.

WTO members question China waste import ban