This article originally appeared on VICE Asia
China is known as the world's top polluter. Whether it’s carbon emissions or plastic in the ocean, the Asian superpower is infamous for its treatment of the environment. But it looks like the country has now seen the error of its ways.
The Chinese government announced on Sunday, January 19, its plans to ban single-use plastic production over the next five years. The goal is that by 2020, plastic bags in places such as supermarkets and shopping malls in China’s major cities will be gone. This will extend to the rest of the country by 2022, Bloomberg reported.
Single-use plastic straws will also be banned in restaurants by the end of this year. Other single-use plastics, like utensils and containers, will be phased out over a longer timeline. By 2025, towns and cities across China must reduce the consumption of single-use plastic items in the restaurant industry by 30 percent.
In 2010, China contributed the highest share of mismanaged plastic waste with around 28 percent of the global total, followed by 10 percent in Indonesia, and 6 percent for both the Philippines and Vietnam.
According to the plan released by China’s National Development and Reform Commission on Sunday, the ban will also include disposable plastic used in the country’s e-commerce websites, express delivery services, and takeaway food by 2022. Instead, they will promote alternative materials for packaging. They will also establish a system for producing, distributing, consuming, recycling, and disposing of plastic products by 2025.
China will also completely ban the import of plastic waste but did not say when this will happen. This follows its move in 2017 to ban the import of 24 materials, including mixed plastics. The policy went into effect in 2018 and sent the world’s recycling system into chaos. Many western countries now ship their waste to developing countries in Asia, contributing greatly to the region’s waste problem.
In 2008, China also banned retailers from giving out free plastic bags.
China has introduced a mandatory recycling system that’s being piloted in cities such as Shanghai. The country has already started boosting recycling rates and is building dozens of “comprehensive resource utilisation” bases to ensure more products are reused as part of its war on waste, since vast amounts of untreated plastic garbage are buried in landfills or dumped in rivers.
The United Nations has identified single-use plastics as one of the world’s biggest environmental challenges. According to the organisation: “We are already unable to cope with the amount of plastic waste we generate, unless we rethink the way we manufacture, use and manage plastics. Ultimately, tackling one of the biggest environmental scourges of our time will require governments to regulate, businesses to innovate and individuals to act.”