Bans on dangerous substances: how Chinese factories react

Quality Control TipsAbout two months ago, I was discussing with a French importer about his requirements regarding the glue in his products.

He buys packaging for wine. Air pollution is a common cause of corked wine (yes, it doesn’t always come from the cork). So he insists on using water-based glue. And, on their side, Chinese manufacturers reject this idea because water-based glue is too slow to dry.

Chinese suppliers will have to comply because California state just passed a regulation to that effect (and other states and countries will probably follow). But, for the time being, they ignore it and push back on their customers’ demands.

This also the conclusion of a recent article from Global Sources, focused on the European ban on BPA:

Some BPA-free alternatives are already in place in China. For example, glass, PP, PES and PPSU are being used instead of PC to make baby bottles. This is in response to regulations in several markets — including the US, Canada and the EU – that ban the substance in feeding bottles.

Within this line, PP has emerged as the child-safe “alternative of choice,” even though it is softer than PC, has lower clarity and warps under high temperatures. Meanwhile, high costs are deterring broader PES and PPSU adoption.

For other product categories, manufacturers have not yet found workable alternatives. Fujian Hongbo’s Chen notes that there is no substance that can replace BPA in thermal paper. Lin of Ningbo Yonglin makes the same observation regarding epoxy resin.

And my conclusion to this story is this: if importers aren’t careful, they will keep purchasing BPA products for a long time. To avoid this risk, see my advice for testing against regulatory standards.

So, is it hopeless? No!

First, Chinese suppliers will accept the change once most of their customers ask for it and are ready to pay the price.

Second, some importers are already getting their way. Last week I heard the operations director of Mothercare (a major distributor of toys in the UK) explain how one of his large suppliers (HaPe, in Ningbo) had accepted to use water-based glue.

Actually, the supplier worked hand-in-hand with the glue manufacturer. They increased the proportion of pigment in the glue, to make it faster to dry. The price was higher, but production was much faster and more convenient than with the regular water-based glue on the market.