- U.S.-based waste and recycling associations are advising members about potential difficulty exporting fiber to India, as that country reportedly will begin enforcing its years-old 1% contamination rate on recovered paper imports.
- A member update from the National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA) indicates disruptions are occurring in the export market because India intends to randomly inspect five mixed paper bales from each container entering the country. "As a result, all mixed paper exports to India have halted until there is certainty in India’s requirements," it says.
- The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) confirmed the reports and said this will be part of discussions with government officials during an association trip to India next month. "We are currently working through our Paper Stock Industries chapter to guide ISRI members through these policy developments," Adina Renee Adler, assistant vice president of government relations and international affairs, told Waste Dive. The Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) also is in contact with members and the U.S. government on the restrictions.
India's contamination standard enforcement and random bale inspections come at a time when many analysts had expected the country to expand its global recycling significance. It had proven to be a solid new market for many recyclers after China's material bans took effect.
More than 40% of U.S. mixed paper imports have gone to India over the past two years, and it was the top foreign growth market for U.S. scrap material exports in 2018. During ISRI's Commodity Roundtables last fall, India was repeatedly cited as a market with tremendous growth potential over the next several years. Similar projections arose later in the fall at the Paper & Plastics Recycling Conference.
Still, industry analysts did caution that India plans to become self-sufficient in the long term, which could involve restrictions on imports. The country reportedly became inundated with material after China's ban, causing some dips in volumes being accepted. The additional material flow is affecting other commodities as well. It's one reason industry participants believe the Indian government announced a plastic scrap import ban last year.
Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand are among the other countries that increased their scrap import restrictions at least partially because of an influx of material.
India's action reemphasizes the attention on contamination that has sprung up since China's ban. Some recyclers say it is still possible to export materials under the new requirements. Others have called the tightened standards "nearly impossible" to meet with existing MRF infrastructure.
India's enforcement sends the message to U.S. recyclers that "we need to double down on technology in the MRFs and education to clean up the stream," SWANA Executive Director and CEO David Biderman told Waste Dive. "In addition, [the enforcement], combined with other Asian countries’ imposition of restrictions on imports of recovered materials, mandates that Congress provide financial support to recyclers."
Several pieces of federal legislation are in the works that would address the need for a cleaner recycling stream. The RECOVER Act calls for $500 million in recycling infrastructure grants, and the RECYCLE Act proposes $75 million for public recycling education.
States are tackling the contamination issue as well. New Hampshire legislators recently released a report on the state's waste and recycling programs, and a key recommendation was to add more public education to reduce contamination. Michigan also launched its high-profile "Know It Before You Throw It" educational campaign throughout the state last year. Multiple other states are also pursuing their own research and educational efforts to improve material quality.
It's difficult to know how large of an effect India's enforcement will have on U.S. fiber exports in the coming weeks. U.S. recycling association sources note that they are not aware of India making an official announcement about the restrictions or formalizing them with new legislation.
The country's random inspections are believed to be temporary, as NWRA notes: "The most significant impacts are being felt on the eastern seaboard; except Atlanta which has sufficient domestic capacity. Barring any further changes from the export markets, these disruptions are anticipated to be temporary lasting 30-60 days." However, the report also describes this as "a fluid, dynamic situation that is subject to change."