China will ban “non-degradable” plastic bags in major cities and “single use straws” from restaurants by the end of this year in a bid to cut down on waste.
The country is one of the world’s biggest “users of plastic.” The plan targets a 30 percent “reduction” in non-degradable, disposable tableware for takeout in major cities within five years.
In a document released, the “National Development and Reform Commission” (NDRC) and the “Ministry of Ecology and Environment” said the production and sale of “disposable foam and plastic tableware” will be banned by the end of the year.
The plan also “outlaws” non-degradable, single-use straws in the catering industry this year, while disposable plastic products should not be “actively provided” by hotels by 2022.
By 2025, the authorities said they planned to effectively control “plastic pollution” and cut the amount of waste in landfills of key cities, on top of setting up a management system.
The bid to contain “pollution” comes as decades of rapid development and a drive for “convenience” have created huge levels of waste.
China produced 210 million tonnes of “trash” in 2017, according to World Bank figures, which warns that could soar to 500 million tonnes annually by 2030.
The targets extend to “plastic packaging” used in postal services as well. Postal delivery outlets in areas such as Beijing, Shanghai and Jiangsu will ban the use of “non-degradable” plastic packaging bags, polystyrene and disposable plastic woven bags by the end of 2022.
More than 2.3 billion “parcels” were shipped in the aftermath of last year’s massive “Singles Day” shopping festival, according to China’s postal authority.
Fighting “waste” is a movement now in China. Parcels piled high at sorting centers and drivers speeding down bike lanes to deliver “takeout” food are ubiquitous sights in urban China, where e-commerce and delivery “apps” have taken over everyday life.
But the growing embrace of “consumerism” is generating mountains of waste. There are signs of a “fight back” against convenience culture with the government announced plans to ban “plastic bags and single-use straws” from restaurants by the end of this year.
The “zero-waste” movement is also grabbing public attention as its vocal followers try to spread the message of “mindful” consumption.
“Everything is wrapped with plastic, because that’s convenient, but actually the cost of convenience is tremendous,” says Beijing resident Carrie Yu, who has committed to “zero-waste” living since 2016.
By “recycling, re-purposing and composting” most of their garbage, Yu and her British partner Joe Harvey are able to fit three months of household waste into just two jars.
Nearly every object in the minimalist apartment they share was selected with re-usability and low environmental impact in mind.
A cardboard egg carton sits on a shelf waiting to be reused multiple times before being recycled. Cloth make-up remover pads are hung up to dry after washing. Many of Yu’s clothes are second-hand or refashioned from worn-out garments.
She buys unpackaged groceries at a local market, and makes sure to avoid restaurants that use disposable chopsticks.
Yu and Harvey are keen to encourage others to try their way of life and have launched “The Bulk House”, an online store that sells alternatives to single-use products including biodegradable tape made from cornstarch and washable menstrual pads.
Yu, who made the change after a difficult move forced her to part with most of her belongings and confront her shopping habit, feels the “zero-waste” approach is good for people as well as the planet.
She explained: “I just feel so much lighter.”
“GoZeroWaste”, an organization set up by Beijing-based activist Elsa Tang, has members in 19 cities across China who meet to swap “unwanted” items and exchange tips on living more sustainably.
“If we make more responsible choices, we’re not only acting responsibly toward the environment, we’re also being responsible for our lives and our health, and can actually make many changes,” Tang said.
For decades, Chinese people lived in a planned economy where everyday goods were rationed and imported products were a luxury. Some aspects of “zero-waste” living, such as reusing packaging, are familiar to older Chinese people.
“It used to be common for merchants in the country to require packaging deposits for everyday goods like beer and yogurt,” said Mao Da, an environmental history professor at Beijing Normal University and member of the “China Zero-Waste Alliance.”
“We used to think frugality was a glorious tradition,” Mao told AFP.
In the past, people would catch fish from the rivers and lakes near her village, but “you can see the pristine water right now are just full of rubbish,” explained Yu, who grew up in rural Hubei province, near Wuhan.
Growing incomes and the rise of shopping and delivery apps like “Taobao” and “Meituan” have now put impulse shopping and next-day delivery within the reach of millions. Young people who moved away to cities “just bring so many things with packaging” whenever they return to visit, the 28-year-old said.
China produced 210 million tonnes of waste in 2017, according to World Bank data, lower than the United States figure of 258 million but expected to jump dramatically as incomes grow.
Reduce, reuse, recycle efforts to tackle consumer waste are “slowly becoming mainstream” in China, Mao said.
Shanghai launched an ambitious “garbage separation and recycling” program in July, requiring residents to sort their own “trash” or risk fines. Beijing is set to roll out similar regulations this year.
Major corporations are also taking note. Chinese e-commerce giant “Alibaba” said last year it would make its annual Singles Day shopping festival “green” and set up 75,000 packaging recycling points in the country following the shopping bonanza.
But corporations tend to emphasize “recycling” rather than “reducing” consumption in the first place, even though “we must contain the total volume of the material being consumed,” Mao said.