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The end of plastic waste? China is cleaning out its closet

China produces more than 60 million tonnes of plastic waste every year but the government is hoping to reduce the scale of the problem by banning single-use plastic products.

China has long struggled with the waste generated by its 1.4 billion citizens and the National Development and Reform Commission announced a series of actions to address the issue:   

  • Plastic bags will be banned across all cities and towns in 2022. Markets selling fresh produce will be exempt until 2025
  • The production and sale of plastic bags that are less than 0.025 mm thick will also be banned
  • The restaurant industry must reduce the use of single-use plastic items by 30% by the end of this year
  • Hotels will no longer offer free single-use plastic items by 2025

‘We will promote the use of recyclable, easily recyclable and degradable alternative products,’ the commission said. It envisions a circular economy with ‘green logistics’ and a well-regulated recycling industry with more ‘smart’ recycling plants.

It also wants to standardise the classification of different waste types to move away from mixed waste streams. This calls for installing dedicated waste bins and setting up sorting stations and recycling plants near public hotspots, such as shopping districts, universities and airports.

Regular clean-ups will also be organised at rivers, lakes, harbours, and beaches and other environmentally sensitive areas.

Landfills getting full

In order to realise a ‘long-term mechanism to control plastic pollution’, China says it will minimise the amount of plastic sent to landfill. Coincidentally, the waste reduction measures were announced after the country’s largest landfill site (out of 654 such sites) was reported to have reached capacity in November – 25 years ahead of schedule.

The Jiangcungou landfill in Shaanxi Province is the size of 100 football fields and was designed to take 2 500 tonnes of rubbish per day. However, it ended up receiving 10 000 tonnes every day.

More incineration capacity

China collected 215 million tonnes of urban household waste in 2017, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. Around 125 million tonnes was landfilled while 80 million tonnes were incinerated.

A new incineration plant was opened at the end of last year, with at least four more are expected to come on stream in the coming weeks. These sites are said to have a joint daily capacity of 12 750 tonnes. They bring the number of China’s incineration plants to 290.

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