China bans imports of plastics: How ISO 14001 can save the day.

In the wake of China’s decision to crack-down on importing recyclables from around the globe is causing chaos in the seemingly ill-equipped waste management sector. Read on to see how ISO 14001 could ease the pain.

In April of this year, China made a move that sent shockwaves around the globe. In a single legislative move they banned the majority of recycling imports, which in an Australian context last year meant 29% (920,000 tonnes) of all paper, and 36% (125,000 tonnes) of plastics; 65% of the export market for each, according to statistics from The Conversation’s lengthy report.

This highlights both Australia’s reliance on China for the processing of these materials, and the inability to process them domestically. Before the ban, recyclables were commoditised and exported to China, with Australian recycling plants receiving as much as $400 per tonne of recycled plastic, according to statistics. Since the near-total ban on the import of plastics was handed down by the Chinese government, the price has plummeted to between $0-130 a tonne; more often nothing. The price of paper has suffered a similar fate, with last year’s price of $300-400 dropping to $0-30 per tonne.

The reason for this is due largely to the implementation of China’s own ‘Blue Sky’ program, superseding the ‘National Sword’ environmental program. In recognition of the poor state of their environment and air quality, China has recently made massive investments in renewable technologies, and has slammed the door shut on nations looking to make their plastics China’s responsibility.

It seems reasonable to argue that the environmental reasons against the importation of plastics outweighed the economic benefit; a key learning of ISO 14001.

As the waste management sector scrambles to find both a short-term strategies like storing there materials in the hope the price will rise, as well as long-term strategies like increasing the quality of recycling infrastructure in Australia, and reducing the need for recycling altogether with biodegradable packaging and the elimination of single-use plastics.

In the wake of this massive shift, more responsibility than ever before has shifted to individuals to be more conscious of their waste due to the simple fact that the Conversation explains: “for many recycling companies, this means that the money they can make from kerbside recycling will now be less than the cost of providing the service.”

So then, let’s pivot to what the heck this has to do with ISO 14001. As a quality management system designed to improve the state of your environmental management system, it’s designed to consistently look for areas of improvement in your business. More specifically, it’s looking to eliminate any redundant practices in your workspace like unnecessary documentation, or wastage of resources that could be better utilised digitally, for instance.

These recommendations are designed to make your business more profitable and efficient, all the while improving your environmental standards across the organization. Staff members will almost unknowingly become more environmentally conscious, and you’ll also have something engaging to market to prospective clients in the future that recognise – and vote with their wallets – companies that are trying to minimise their environmental footprint; this will only increase exponentially in the future.

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