How China plans to phase out single-use plastics by 2025

However, it must ensure fair practices to achieve environmentally-driven, economically viable expectations

By Rashmi Shrivastav
Published: Wednesday 29 January 2020
Plastic waste in Beihai, China. Photo: Flickr

China's Ministry of Ecology and Environment and the National Development and Reform Commission on January 19, 2020 issued a policy to phase out the production, sale, and use of single-use plastic products by 2025.

In January 2018, China had implemented the ‘National Sword’ Policy that banned the entry of 24 categories of foreign waste like plastics, textiles and mixed paper into its borders. 

About 90 per cent of all plastic found in the world's oceans is carried by just 10 rivers. Among these, six rivers — Yangtze, Yellow, Hai He, Zhujiang, Amur and Mekong — all of which originate in China.

China has the highest plastic marine debris in the world among 20 such countries — Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Egypt, Malaysia, Nigeria, Bangladesh, South Africa, India, Algeria, Turkey, Pakistan, Brazil, Myanmar, Morocco, North Korea and the United States. The debris ranges from1.32-3.53 MMT (million metric tonnes) per year.

Not surprisingly then, the proportion of mismanaged plastic waste in China — 8.82 MMT/year — is also significantly high. China’s waste generation rate is 1.10 kg/ppd (person per day), out of which 11 per cent is plastic waste. The main factors attributed to this are increasing population, changing lifestyles and the development of new business models.

So the Chinese local authority joined the global shift to restrict the throw-away culture by phasing out plastic items like straws, microbeads, packaging films / materials, cutleries and carry bags.

About the notification

The new guidelines state that the key sources of plastic pollution in the country like throw-away habits, orders sold via Chinese e-commerce outlets (such as Alibaba, JD.com, Meituan etc) as well as express delivery will be restrained in three phases until 2025, as explained in the chart below:

Key recommendations

For effective implementation of the policy, the circular also incorporates important instructions like:

  • Encouraging self-service and installing intelligent placement devices to facilitate the lives of the people
  • Promoting use of environmentally friendly products like cloth / paper bags, straw-covered lunch boxes, biodegradable bags for fresh products and beverage delivery and mulch in key film-covered areas 
  • Establishing a centralised buying and selling system for shopping bags in markets
  • Publicising recyclable and foldable packaging products and logistics distribution appliances through equipment leasing and financing leasing, and establishing a recycling system for recyclable logistics and distribution appliances
  • Increasing the supply of green products that meet relevant standards, and do not add chemical additives
  • Providing related services by setting up self-service purchase machines and refillable detergents
  • Regulating the recycling and disposal of plastic waste and strengthen publicity and guidance through newspapers, radio and television, new media and other channels
  • Strengthening the recycling and removal of plastic waste by combining it with the implementation of garbage classification, collection and treatment of recyclables
  • Establishing a sound legal system and standards by often updating and releasing the catalogue of bans on plastic products and supervise law enforcement
  • Special cleaning up of plastic garbage by investigating irregular dumping and improving dumping points of domestic garbage; tacking domestic garbage disposal in urban-rural junctions, environmentally sensitive areas, roads, rivers and canals; promoting cleaning and remediation of farmland residual mulch film, plastic packaging of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, etc
  • Boosting organisational leadership and implementation by summarising and analysing the progress of work in a timely manner, and report major situations and issues to the Communist Party's Central Committee and the State Council
  • Supporting scientific and technological support by strengthening research and evaluation of the life cycle environmental risks of different types of plastic products

Implementation time

There is no doubt that the authorities have meticulously drafted policy to phase out a deluge of soiled and contaminated plastic materials from the country’s air, water, and soil. However, it could be a hard sell for a society that is used to convenience.

To achieve environmentally-driven and economically viable expectations, China must ensure fair and consistent practices along with the legal compliances in this fight against plastic pollution.

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