China's customs authority has arrested 245 suspects involved in smuggling scrap and waste steel valued at 4.8 billion yuan (559.45 million pounds) out of the country, it said on Wednesday.
Following a ban on imported trash, the General Administration of Customs has identified the crackdown on waste smuggling as one of its major priorities this year, but its efforts have focused on illegal imports of low-quality scrap plastic, paper and electronics.
But customs has also targeted smugglers trying to avoid tariffs as high as 40 percent by sneaking high-value steel scrap and waste out of China, mainly to Southeast Asia.
Customs said the scrap is a high-quality raw material that could be used to replace iron ore in the steelmaking process and serve China's recycling and energy efficiency requirements.
An operation was launched late on Monday following a rapid increase in scrap export volumes, the customs authority said.
Officials discovered a total of 2.41 million tonnes of scrap and waste steel material had been undervalued in customs declarations as traders tried to circumvent the tariff.
Chinese exports of scrap steel surged to 2.2 million tonnes last year, up from just 1,000 tonnes in 2016.