China to Put Curbs on Single-use Plastics

New rules will take effect up to 2025

21.01.2020 -

China is following the lead of developed countries and economic blocs with plans to put curbs on production, sale and use of single-use plastic products, which are becoming a nightmare of gigantic proportions as vast amounts of untreated plastic waste cause landfills to overflow and rivers to choke on waste.

The country’s largest rubbish dump, which reports describe as being “the size of 100 football fields,” is said to be already full, 25 years ahead of schedule, and China’s Yangtze River thought to carry more plastic pollution into the ocean than any other waterway worldwide.

At the behest of China’s national development and reform commission, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment on Jan. 19 issued an order banning non-biodegradable plastic bags in all of major cities by the end of 2020 and in all cities and towns by 2022. The rules will not apply to markets selling fresh produce until 2025.

The announcement coincided with the opening of the World Economic Forum’s annual conference in Davos, Switzerland.

Also by the end of this year, restaurants across the People’s Republic will be banned from using plastic straws, and the use of plastic utensils by takeaway food outlets and plastic courier packages phased out.

By 2025, restaurants in all towns and cities have been ordered to cut consumption of single-use plastic items by 30% and hotels told to phase out free single-use plastic items by that date.

Another ban to take effect over the next 12 months calls for an end to production throughout China of household chemicals containing plastic microbeads, with the sale of such products outlawed by the end of 2022.

The new restrictions are being touted as the most wide-sweeping of the past decade. In 2008, the government prohibited free handouts of plastic bags at retail outlets and subsequently ordered production of ultra-thin plastic bags to cease. Beijing has acknowledged, however, that the regulations have not been consistently enforced.

Plastic packaging for food and parcel deliveries, which were left unaddressed by the 2008 legislation, in the meantime have flourished so that these two sectors are coming under particular scrutiny. A Greenpeace report from November 2019 found that plastic waste from parcels was responsible for 93% of the 2018 growth in trash in the country’s major cities.

Some Chinese regional governments have already begun curbing the use of plastic products. Shanghai, notably, has asked local hotels to immediately cease handouts of toiletries packaged in plastic bottles, unless requested, and the southern tourist resort island of Hainan reportedly issued a ban on all plastic products last year.

Restrictions on production and sale of other plastic products are allegedly in the works, though it is not yet clear which products and which parts of the country would be affected. It is also not clear which, if any, penalties for violations would be levied this time around.

Struggling under its own crushing burden, China has been at the forefront of initiatives by Asian countries to stop imports of plastic waste from the developed world, in 2018 rejecting all shipments. The use of medical plastic waste in production of plastic products is said to have been banned as well.

Figures published by the online platform Our World in Data show that China was the largest producer of plastics worldwide in 2010 – the last year for which official statistics are said to be available – with a volume of 60 million tonnes. The US was in second place with 38 million tonnes.

In the recent past, the Chinese government has stepped up efforts at recycling its own waste, although figures for recycling are not widely available.