Is China a leader when it comes to protecting the Earth’s environment? Some would argue yes and some would argue the opposite. It is building vast renewable energy resources, but it also meets much of its demand for electricity by burning coal. Even worse, it is exporting its coal generating technology to many of its neighboring countries.
One area where China can be truly said to be a leader in environmental stewardship is plastics. A year ago, it closed its ports to the plastic waste shipped in from other countries. Now it says it will begin phasing out single-use plastics in all of its major cities by the end of this year. (Note: China has more than 100 cities with more than 1 million inhabitants. The US has 14.)
According to The Guardian, the national development and reform commission and the Ministry of Ecology and Environment have issued a policy statement saying plastic bags will be banned in all major cities by the end of 2020. The ban will apply nationwide by the end of 2022. Markets selling fresh produce will be exempt from the ban until 2025.
Single-use straws will also be banned by the end of this year, with single-use utensils and food containers from take-out restaurants being phased out over a period of years. The goal is to reduce the use of single-use plastics in all Chinese cities and towns by 30% not later than 2025.
The production and sale of plastic bags less than 0.025 mm thick will be banned, as will plastic film less than 0.01 mm thick for agricultural use. In some parts of the country, there will be further restrictions on the production and sale of plastic products, although the details as to which products and what regions will be affected are still a work in progress.
Recycling of waste plastic is a huge problem in most countries around the world. China is working to boost recycling rates and is building dozens of “comprehensive resource utilization” bases to ensure more products are reused as part of its war on waste. The United States, by contrast, has no national policy promoting plastic recycling programs. Hawai’i is charting its own course, however. In the global competition to see which country is a leader and which a follower in the effort to reduce plastic pollution, score one for the Chinese.