As the world’s most populous country, with close to 1.5 billion denizens, China also produces the largest quantity of plastic. In fact, the University of Oxford-based publication Our World In Data (OWID) has documented China’s plastic production rate at 60 million tons per year. To mitigate the resulting plastic pollution, the Chinese government is set to enact a plastic ban, phasing out the production and use of several single-use plastic items by 2025, thanks to a detailed policy directive and timeline from the country’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC).
Three avenues are currently available for plastic waste disposal: recycling, incinerating or discarding. Only an estimated 20% of global plastic waste is recycled, 25% incinerated and a whopping 55% is discarded, according to OWID. The more shocking statistic is that only 9% of 5.8 billion tons of plastic no longer in use has been recycled since 1950.
Interestingly, of all the regions across the globe where mismanaged plastic is prevalent, East Asia and the Pacific alarmingly outrank all regions at 60%, followed distantly by South Asia at 11%, Sub-Saharan Africa at 8.9%, the Middle East and North Africa at 8.3%, Latin America and the Caribbean at 7.2%, Europe and Central Asia at 3.6% and North America at 0.9%.
Discarded plastic accumulates in landfills, but some also enters the oceans, threatening marine life and ecosystems. OWID explained, “Mismanaged plastic waste eventually enters the ocean via inland waterways, wastewater outflows and transport by wind or tides.”
Thus, China’s new initiative to curtail single-use plastic production might help substantially in solving the Pacific regions’, and by extension the planet’s, crisis with plastic waste. The plastic ban calls for several components, including a ban on China’s production and sale of plastic bags that are less than 0.025 mm thick; a ban on plastic bags in major cities before 20201, then all cities and towns by 2022 and all produce vendors by 2025; a ban on single-use straws in restaurants before 2021, and a reduction of single-use plastic items by 30% in restaurants by 2021; a phase-out of plastic packaging in China’s postal service; and a ban on single-use plastic items in hotels by 2025.
Image via Lennard Kollossa