A decade of booming e-commerce and food deliveries has dramatically increased the production and use of plastic in China. Now, as the world seeks ways to deal with plastic waste, China has decided to introduce new rules to cut back on its use.
China has already stopped importing plastic waste two years ago, affecting recycling markets from the U.S. to India. China generated 60.4 million metric tons of plastic in 2018, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
Now, thanks to the new plan, the country will roll out a massive ban on single-use plastics and restrict production, sale, and use of products such as plastic bags, straws, packaging, and tape. If a company doesn’t comply, it might even be blacklisted, the government warned.
Making such a shift won’t be easy so the government plans to implement the restrictions slowly and at different paces. Plastic bags will be banned in large cities in less than a year, while smaller cities will have more time. Restaurants will have to reduce single-use plastic items by 30% by 2025.
"Consumption of plastic products, especially single-use items, has been consistently rising," states an explanation for the new guidelines, according to a translation from The New York Times. "There needs to be stronger comprehensive planning and a systematic rollout to clean up plastic pollution."
The move by the government is the widest regulation to be implemented on plastics since 2008 when China banned the distribution of free plastic bags at retail markets and the production of super-thin bags. There were some declines in the use of plastic bags, but the impact was limited, studies showed.
"It is a long-anticipated upgrade on the previous regulation, but we also feel that the problem lies in how the country can move toward it," Damin Tang, a campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia, told The Wall Street Journal, claiming the new rules are more ambitious than in 2008 but expressing doubts on their enforcement.
The growth of plastics
China is now the main producer of plastic in the world. It generates almost 30% of all plastic products, with Asia as a whole producing 50%. The following regions in the ranking are the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA) at 19%, and Europe at 18%.
Packages and food deliveries have flourished in China, creating a large demand for plastic packaging that hadn’t been addressed by the 2008 rules. The number of parcels delivered in the country tripled in the last four years, going from 20.6 billion in 2015 to 63.5 billion last year.
According to a report by Greenpeace, the waste created from parcels was to blame for the 93% growth in the trash in the largest cities of China. About 850.000 metric tons of plastic waste was produced by the package-delivery sector in 2018, the report said.
Replying to the new rules, online retailers Alibaba and Meituan said they are already asking the merchants on their platforms to go green. Alibaba is encouraging sellers to reduce the use of plastic and reuse packing material, while Meituan gives its users virtual credits if they stop using single-use chopsticks and spoons.