China to launch clampdown on single-use plastic, including bags and cutlery, in the next few years
China is launching a major clampdown on throwaway plastics that will include widespread bans on single-use items such as bags and cutlery.
The world's biggest producer of plastic waste by far, China will ban non-degradable bags in major cities by the end of the year.
The ban will be extended to all cities and towns by 2022 and to markets selling fresh produce by 2025.
Meanwhile, restaurants and fast food outlets will be prevented from using single-use straws by the end of 2020 and plastic utensils and courier packages will be phased out in the longer term.
The move was largely welcomed by campaigners, although they said more consumer incentives would be needed to implement such ambitious proposals.
“It's encouraging to see single-use plastics finally named outright as the core of China’s plastic pollution crisis," said Tang Damin, a Beijing-based campaigner with Greenpeace East Asia.
"Beijing is addressing the problem seriously and pushing reusable containers as the right solution, but the policy still lacks regulatory incentives like deposit return schemes," she said.
Deposit return schemes encourage recycling by charging a few pence extra for a plastic bottle or other vessel in the shops and allowing the consumer to recoup the additional cost when they return it.
“Food delivery and e-commerce ballooned China’s dependence on single-use plastics and a general throwaway culture," she added, calling on retailers to help reduce their footprint by "pushing reusable solutions".
Reducing single-use plastic
China's proposal would require restaurants in towns and cities across the country to reduce their total consumption of single-use plastic items by 30 per cent by 2025.
Sander Defruyt, of the Ellen MacArthur sustainability charity, said the new legislation would have a knock-on effect around the world.
"The scale of the Chinese market is such that this will have an impact beyond China. It is important that efforts to address plastics waste and pollution are globally aligned and concerted," he said.
"Reducing the overall volume of plastic packaging by eliminating the most problematic items and shifting to reusable alternatives is a necessary part of the solution," he added.
"Ultimately we need to create a circular economy for plastic where, no matter where a product is made, used, or processed, it never becomes waste of pollution, and for that to happen we need businesses and governments around the world to work together," he said.
Friends of the Earth plastic campaigner Julian Kirby said: “Plastic pollution is swamping our environment and threatening wildlife across the planet, so it’s encouraging to see one of the world’s biggest economies taking action on single-use plastic.
“But with the world drowning under a tide of plastic waste, we need nations to recognise the need for tough and urgent action on all plastic waste.
“The UK government has a golden opportunity to show international leadership on this issue later this month by ensuring its Environment Bill includes a commitment to phase-out the use of all non-essential single-use plastic.”