China to force businesses to submit formal recycling plans and report plastic use

Within the last week China has decreed that it will ban all imports of solid waste from January 1 2021 and told restaurants, e-commerce platforms and delivery companies they have to report their use of single-use plastics and also submit formal recycling plans.

China’s Ministry of Commerce said a nationwide system for retailers was to be established to report their plastic consumption. This will be part of a trial to encourage recycling, which will also mean firms will have to submit formal plans for recycling.

Country’s biggest challenge

Plastic pollution has become one of China’s biggest challenges, with vast amounts buried or dumped. The country produced 63 million tonnes of plastic in 2019, with a recycling rate of around 30 per cent. It produces around 20 million tonnes of single-use non-biodegradable material annually, including 3 million tonnes of shopping bags.

In September, the ministry said single-use plastic bags and eating utensils would be banned from major cities by the end of the year, while single-use straws would be banned nationwide.

Dealing with waste

In January this year, China’s National Development and Reform Commission issued new policy to be implemented over the next five years, setting out how to deal with the waste its 1.4 billion citizens create. The country said it would ‘progressively ban or restrict the production, sales and use’ of certain plastics while endorsing ‘degradable, recycle-friendly alternatives’, according to a document published by the Commission.

The Chinese commission also said the restaurant industry must reduce its use of single-use plastic by 30 per cent, and hotels have been told that they must not offer free single-use plastic items by 2025 – it is thought this will include toiletries. In 2008, China banned retailers from giving out free single-use plastic bags, and banned the production of ultra-thin plastic bags.

In 2017, the country announced that it would ban the import of foreign plastic waste in a move that has meant countries across the world have had to seek out alternative destinations for their waste.

Restrictions

Wang Wang, chairman of the China Scrap Plastic Association, said the bans would “only resolve the most visible types of plastic pollution” and were just one part of the country’s efforts to tackle waste, according to Reuters news agency.

From September, China has also prohibited some types of agricultural-use plastic film used to keep crops warm and moist. Chinese farmers use around 1.5 million tonnes a year, but it leaves residues that damage the soil.

A new “solid waste law” also came into effect in September, raising fines tenfold for those who break rules and mandating the construction of new recycling infrastructure.

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