China is going all out in its nation-wide bid to tackle plastic waste. Several years ago, the country announced it would no longer be accepting the rest of the world's recycling. This week, the nation took an even bigger step towards ridding its vast expanse of waste.
In the next five years, the state plans on rolling out a nation-wide ban on single-use plastics, restricting the production, sale, and use of certain products, like plastic bags, microbeads, straws, packaging, tape, cotton swabs, and utensils. Companies that don't comply might even be blacklisted, officials warn.
To make this massive transition as easy as possible, the new restrictions will be put into place slowly and at different paces throughout the country. While plastic bags will be banned in major cities in less than a year, for instance, smaller cities and towns will be given extra time.
By the end of 2020, both the production and sale of foam plastic tableware and cotton swabs will be completely banned. Whereas chemicals with microbeads will stop being produced first and then, later on, barred from sale.
"Consumption of plastic products, especially single-use items, has been consistently rising," states an explanation for the new guidelines, according to a translation from The New York Times.
"There needs to be stronger comprehensive planning and a systematic rollout to clean up plastic pollution."
Today, China is the largest producer of plastic in the world, generating nearly 30 percent of all products (in total, Asia produces 50 percent of the world's plastic); the next two regions to follow are the North American Free Trade Area at 19 percent, and Europe at 18 percent.
Tackling this massive problem is not insurmountable, but it will require wide systemic changes. In China, that means some industries will be forced to comply sooner than others. The restaurant industry, for instance, will be given until the end of 2020 to stop using single-use straws, while reducing other plastic items by 30 percent.
Hotels, on the other hand, will have until 2025 to stop relying on single-use plastics, and the packaging sector will have the same amount of time to stop using plastic containers, tape, and sacks.
If achieved, this would be quite the success for plastic pollution not only in the country but worldwide. China would join only a handful of other countries and regions that have committed to banning single-use products - like the European Union and, more recently, Canada.
Whether or not these policies can somehow stem our unending flow of plastic waste remains to be seen - but it appears to be a step in the right direction.