China moves to phase out single-use plastics
A new directive from the National Development and Reform Commission and the Environment Ministry outlines how Beijing hopes to cut plastic waste by 30 per cent in five years, banning single use plastic bags and straws.
China, one of the world’s biggest users of plastic – and one of the biggest producers of plastic waste – has unveiled a major plan to reduce single-use plastics across the country.
According to a plan released by the National Development and Reform Commission and the Environment Ministry on Jan. 19, China will ban non-degradable, single-use plastic straws nationwide by the end of 2020, with the goal of reducing the “intensity of consumption” of such plastic utensils by takeout services in urban areas by 30 per cent by 2025.
By 2022, some delivery services in major cities including Beijing and Shanghai will be forbidden from using non-degradable packaging, with the ban extended to the whole country by 2025.
Non-degradable bags will be banned in major cities including Beijing and Shanghai by the end of 2020 and in all cities and towns by 2022.
The restaurant industry will also be banned from using single-use straws by the end of 2020, and must reduce the use of single-use plastic items by 30 per cent. Hotels, meanwhile, have been told that they must not offer free single-use plastic items by 2025.
Postal delivery outlets are also targeted in the new guidelines with a ban on non-degradable plastic packaging and disposable plastic woven bags by the end of 2022.
The production and sale of plastic bags that are less than 0.025-mm thick will also be banned.
China produced 215 million tons of trash in 2017, according to the World Bank – a figure that could soar to 500 million tons annually by 2030.
Several global oil majors, including Saudi Arabian Oil Co. and Exxon Mobil Corp., are investing in petrochemical plants in China to tap into what had been the country’s growing demand for plastic. William Liu, a senior consultant with global chemicals consultancy group Wood Mackenzie, noted that the announcement will have varying impacts on the petrochemical industry going forward. “Polyethylene consumption will be impacted as it is the main feed to produce bags and packaging films, but as plastic bags/straws are only one application of plastic, it will not have a major impact on the oil industry,” he said. “The plastic ban will impact polyethylene consumption, but as it is first carried out in major cities and only applying to single-use plastic such as supermarkets bags, straws, tableware, hotel disposables, the impact would be limited in 2020.
But going forward, as the ban rolls out to more cities and substitute materials gain traction, Liu said that China’s polyethylene consumption will be impacted. “China is the largest polyethylene importer in the world,” he said. “The country consumed more than 33 million tonnes of polyethylene in 2019 of which 40 per cent is imported from producers in the Middle East and other Asian countries. The single-use plastic ban might impact import volume.”
On scrap ban, Liu added that China has already applied a scrap ban since the start of 2018. “It only imported around 10kta polyolefins scrap in 2018 and 2019, dropping from 3 million tonnes in 2017,” he said. “So the new scrap ban will not have a major impact on polyolefins markets.”