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China moves to ban single-use plastics by 2025

China, one of the world’s largest users of plastics materials and one of the biggest producers of plastic waste, announced a major plan aimed at restricting production, sale, and use of single-use plastic products while promoting their degradable, recycle-friendly alternatives.

In a document released on January 19, China's National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Ecology and Environment informed that both the production and utilization of a variety of single-use plastics would be gradually phased out across the country by the middle of this decade.

The statement says that China expects by 2025 to substantially reduce the amount of plastic waste in landfills of some key cities, set up a comprehensive plastics management system and also make advances in the development of alternative products, while also controlling plastics pollution in an effective way.

The plan outlined a detailed timeline describing the type of plastics that will be banned in areas across the country by a certain time. The largest cities should see changes sooner, but smaller towns or rural areas will have more time to adjust.

For example, single-use plastic bags will be banned in most stores in large cities including Beijing and Shanghai by the end of 2020, but smaller cities, town and villages have until 2022 to adapt to the new rules. The production and sale of plastics bags thinner than 0.025-mm will also be banned. Markets selling fresh produce will be exempt from the ban until 2025.

The production and sales of single-use foam plastic tableware and plastic swabs will be phased out by the end of the current year. For daily chemicals containing plastic microbeads, production will also be banned by next December, while sales will cease by 2022.

The document also reiterated prohibitions on the production and use of PE agricultural films, as well as on the production of plastic products with medical waste and imports of plastic waste.

Non-degradable single-use plastic straws will be banned by the end of 2020, while non-degradable single-use plastic tableware will be banned from dining-in in cities. By the end of 2022, the ban on plastic tableware will be extended to dining-in in counties.

By the end of 2025, the use of non-degradable single-use plastic tableware for take-out in cities should be cut by 30 percent, according to the document.

Also by the end of 2025, hotels and guesthouses will no longer be allowed to use single-use plastic wares while postal and express service outlets nationwide should stop using non-degradable plastic packaging, plastic tape and single-use plastic woven bags by the same deadline.

Many global oil companies such are investing in petrochemical units in China to tap into the country´s increasing demand for plastics.

According to a 2019 joint study developed by Columbia University and Zhejiang University, China produces more than 29% of the world's plastic products, making the country the largest manufacturer of plastics worldwide.

William Liu, a senior consultant with global chemicals consultancy group Wood Mackenzie said about the announcement:

"This will certainly impact plastic consumption and going forward, the petrochemical industry. Polyethylene consumption will be impacted as it is the main feed to produce bags and packaging films. But as plastic bags and straws are only one application of plastic, it will not have a major impact on the oil industry.

"The plastic ban will impact polyethylene consumption, but as it is first carried out in major cities and only applying to single-use plastic such as supermarkets bags, straws, tableware, hotel disposables, the impact would be limited in 2020.

"But going forward, as the ban rolls out to more cities and substitute materials gain traction, China's polyethylene consumption will be impacted. China is the largest polyethylene importer in the world. The country consumed more than 33 million tonnes of polyethylene in 2019 of which 40% is imported from producers in the Middle East and other Asian countries. The single-use plastic ban might impact import volume."

As per Polyolefins Market Weekly, 12 percent of American PE exports in 2018 went to China.

China is also one of the largest producers of waste. According to the World Bank, 215 million tons of waste were produced in 2017. The World Economic Forum says that China's Yangtze takes more plastic waste into the ocean than any other river around the world.

On scrap ban, Liu added:

"China has already applied a scrap ban since the start of 2018. It only imported around 10kta polyolefins scrap in 2018 and 2019, dropping from 3 million tonnes in 2017. So the new scrap ban will not have a major impact on polyolefins markets.

"The efficiency of the Directives will depend on many factors such as the development of substitute materials. At present, compared with materials such as paper, glass, wood, and metal, plastic has many advantages in daily use, such as being lightweight, easy to process, convenient, and most of all, it is price competitive."

During a press conference, NDRC´s spokesperson Meng Wei said that the Chinese government will increase support from policymaking and research to encourage the use of alternative materials such as non-plastic products and degradable shopping bags and urge efforts in the recycling and disposal of plastics wastes while also strengthening supervision and law enforcement on this matter.

Meng also said that major issues related to plastics polution control will be overseen by the central environment inspector in order to improve assessment and accountability practices.

Sources: Xinhua, Wood Mackenzie, Reuters, CNN