The new policy bans the production and sale of disposable plastic tableware and cotton swabs, it bans the production of household products with microbeads, which are widely used in cosmetics and are solid plastic particles less than 1 millimeter in diameter. It also sets a graded timetable, by the end of 2020, 2022 or 2025, for the complete prohibition of different products in regions at different levels of economic development.
Most importantly, the ban stresses the increasing deluge of plastic waste brought about by the express delivery industry, e-commerce and the takeout sector. In 2019, there were 63.52 billion express deliveries in the Chinese mainland, a year-on-year increase of 25.3 percent, according to China’s State Post Bureau. A survey conducted by NGOs, Greenpeace, Break Free From Plastic and the All-China Environment Federation, found that in 2018, plastic packaging used in deliveries amounted to 851,800 tons, nearly 10 percent of total packaging.
The use of non-biodegradable plastic packaging and single-use plastic woven bags will be first banned in delivery outlets in places including Beijing, Shanghai and Jiangsu Province and then all plastic, including Scotch tape, will be banned nationwide by the end of 2025, the policy reads.
Trustdata, a mobile internet data provider, said that turnover in China’s takeout industry in 2019 would reach 603.5 billion yuan (US$85.6b), an increase of 30 percent over 2018, and it keeps rising fast. Greenpeace found that each takeout order uses an average of 3.27 disposable food containers. In that case, if the orders Meituan received daily surpassed 30 million, as its founder Wang Xing revealed in July 2019, then this company alone would consume more than 90 million disposable plastic containers a day.
Non-biodegradable plastic straws will be banned in restaurants nationwide by the end of 2020, while non-biodegradable plastic tableware in restaurants and takeouts in cities above county level should drop by 30 percent by 2025, says the guideline.
Challenges in achieving this goal are evident. In September 2017, the Green Volunteer League of Chongqing, an environmental protection organization, sued Baidu Waimai, Ele.me and Meituan for causing severe pollution. After that, Meituan and Ele.me allowed customers to check a box on the order page saying they did not want single-use plastic tableware, such as cutlery and chopsticks, to be included with their order. But the effect was not obvious. “We can encourage restaurants and customers to reduce the use of disposable plastic containers, but we are not in a position to force them to do so,” said an employee from Ele.me, who asked not to be named.
“Currently, there are no specific laws and regulations to address the problem. E-commerce platforms cannot force online stores to use certain kinds of packaging, nor do they have the right to promote environmentally friendly plastic products through agreements,” said Guo Hu, a lawyer from Jingsh (Hangzhou) Law Firm.
Jiang Jianguo, a professor at the School of the Environment at Tsinghua University, told NewsChina that decisionmakers are in a dilemma when dealing with these emerging types of business: Encouraging the enterprises to figure out solutions takes time, but adopting coercive measures might harm development.