China’s Waste Ban’s Global Impact

China’s Waste Ban’s Global Impact

by admin |July 3, 2020 | Blogs

China’s policy to ban waste imports from across the world has put many countries’ ability to manage their waste in question. In 2018, China banned import of 20+ types of plastic imports. This has caused most of the disposable plastic used to end up into landfills. The major exporters of waste USA, Japan, Germany and UK need to quickly find solution to the issue as they are amongst the largest producers of plastic as well.

A study indicated that this policy will cause more than 100 million MT of plastic will end-up being unaccounted for by 2030. The fact that the use of plastic cannot be discontinued immediately or in very near future makes the situation worse. There is increase in awareness and steps are being take to reduce the usage and better handling, recycling and disposal of plastic waste. However, despite the efforts, a huge amount of waste (increased after China’s policy) goes to unauthorised dumping and burning.

A brief history of China’s waste import:

China accounted for 56% of total world imports of plastic waste. Since 1992, China has imported half of worlds total plastic produce. As China’s economy grew in the last quarter of the 20th century, their plastic need also started increasing-by 21% annually since 1990. From 1980s, China increasingly imported plastic from across the world and developed recycling capacities. The main reasons for recycling rather than using raw plastic were purely economic

  • The recycled plastic was cheaper than pure plastic, despite the increased cost of waste plastic
  • The country’s production of pure plastic was not able to meet the growing domestic demand

Reason for ban:

From 2010 onwards, the quality of imported waste plastic degraded substantially. China received plastic with impurities like food, remains and other material. Overall, there were two main problems for China:

  • The cost of recycling per unit plastic increased with additional processes for cleaning the waste and low productivity of the material
  • Health and safety issues increased in the country with increasing use of plastics which affected health of all living organisms

The ban came after the transition from waste segregation at source by consumers to a single blue bin concept which caused the waste to be contaminated and complex. The purity standard is kept at 99.5% which is almost impossible for any country to maintain.

Impact of the ban:

China’s plastic imports have dropped by 99%. Import of paper has fallen by one third. One of the largest producer of waste is USA and has been very severely been affected by this turn of events. Many waste operators are not recycling the plastic and it is being dumped.

This improper treatment of waste will affect health, safety, waster, wood, ocean life, agriculture and many other facets of life in the waste exporters. It will take at least a few years for these countries to develop capacities to recycle the plastic waste.

The opportunity:

On one hand, the policy has raised a lot of questions on planet’s future and our capability of foresight. On the other, it has given a great opportunity to streamline the processes and be better prepared. Many countries have taken measures and introduced policies to develop infrastructure to not only mitigate the environmental risks but they are also seeing it as an opportunity to boost the economy. Countries like Malaysia, Thailand and many other SEA countries have ramped up their recycling capacities and are importing plastic waste that’s been diverted by China.

Many Chinese companies have also started setting up recycling plants in other countries including USA and Europe. In recent years, UK’s waste imports in Malaysia have increased three times creating business and employment opportunities. This has to be a wakeup call for all the businesses and countries. The measure taken at the consumer level will only impact a smaller chunk of the problem. The consumers have little control over the packaging and manufacturing of the products. So, the businesses have to take the responsibility and step-up. Also, the efforts by businesses have to backed by governments through new policies, green funds and aids to those who are working towards the well-being of the planet.

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