China announces major ban on single-use plastics

January 28, 2020 | Environment
Plastics: China is the world's largest polyethylene importer | Photo: Creative Commons

China, the world's most populated nation, will ban non-biodegradable plastic bags in major Chinese cities by the end of 2020.

The prohibition will be enforced in smaller cities and towns until the end of 2022.

The Chinese authorities also plan to ban other sources of non-degradable plastic packaging in Beijing, Shanghai, and other wealthy coastal regions by the end of 2022.

A nationwide extension will be implemented in full force by late 2025.

The production and sale of plastic film less than 0.01mm thick for agricultural will be banned, as will plastic bags less than 0.025mm thick.

From January 1, 2021, Chinese restaurants will no longer be allowed to use plastic straws. Hotels must stop providing single-use plastic products by January 1, 2025.

Plastic waste: vast amounts of polyethylene-based items end up in landfills | Photo: Creative Commons

The End of an Era

With a population of 1.4 billion, China is the planet's largest polyethylene importer. In 2019, the nation consumed more than 33 million tonnes of the most popular type of plastic in the world.

Forty percent of that polyethylene was imported from Asian and Middle East producers, so it is expected that the ban will dramatically impact the petrochemical industry on a global scale.

Until December 31, 2017, China imported two-thirds of global plastic waste. But when it stopped accepting the world's garbage, richer countries were forced to find new destinations for their plastics.

The decision to phase out single-use plastics was announced by China's National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC).

Untreated plastic waste is one of the planet's biggest environmental challenges, as vast amounts of polyethylene-based items are dumped in rivers, buried in landfills, or incinerated.

The world's biggest polluter produces more than 29 percent of the planet's plastic products and is the largest manufacturer of plastic in the world.

China seems to be trying to catch up with the remainder of the world, and it could very well become an example for Western developed economies.

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