China, which is one of the world’s biggest users of single-use plastics, has announced a bold plan for reducing the use of single-use plastics across the country. The plan includes plastic bag bans in major cities as well as plans to reduce household waste.
The issue of single-use plastic pollution has become something of an epidemic in recent years. Plastic is durable, light, and inexpensive, but it also does not naturally degrade and can wreak havoc in the natural environment. But how big of a problem is single-use plastic?
Annually, more than 8 million tons of plastic are dumped in the ocean, which experts believe impacts approximately 1 in 3 species of marine mammal and 90% of all seabirds. According to the Container Recycling Institute, more than 100 billion plastic bottles are sold in the United States each year. These bottles alone count for 14% of all plastic litter.
In 2010, China produced 60 million tons of plastic waste, surpassing the United States at 38 million tons. The country’s massive and growing population has made it difficult for China to counteract its single-use plastic problem. But a bold new plan will see the phasing out of single-use non-degradable bags in major cities by the end of 2020 and in all cities and towns by 2022.
In addition to the plastic bag ban, China’s restaurant industry will be required to reduce the use of single-use plastics by 30% and hotels will be banned from offering single-use plastic items by 2025.
The full policy will be implemented over the next five years.
In November of 2019, China reported that its largest landfill, sometimes referred to as a “mega dump,” was completely full 25 years ahead of schedule. The landfill was designed to take 2,500 tons of refuse every day but wound up accepting nearly 10,000 tons daily.
There are no figures which publicly available about China’s recycling rate. But China has announced plans to reach a recycling rate of 35% by the end of 2020. Sorting recyclables out of trash became mandatory in the city of Shanghai in July of 2019.
China isn’t alone in this problem. Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Thailand, Malaysia, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Brazil, and the United States are the top plastic polluters of the world’s oceans. Hopefully, China’s actions will signal to the rest of the world that a revolution in how waste is managed is possible and that it starts with each of us doing our part.