Plastic Pollution

Communist China Declares War on Single-Use Plastics

China is responsible for a huge portion of the world's plastic waste. There's still reason to be wary of its plastics crackdown.

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Communist China is the latest country to crack down on single-use plastics. On Sunday, the country's National Development and Reform Commission issued new rules restricting or banning the use of everything from straws to miniature shampoo bottles.

Non-biodegradable plastic bags will be banned in major cities by the end of the year, and in the entire country by the end of 2022.

Restaurants will be banned from distributing plastic straws. They must also reduce their overall use of single-use plastics by 30 percent. Hotels will be prohibited from giving out free single-use plastic items by 2025, reports the BBC. The production of 0.025mm thick plastic bags will also be banned. The new directive includes an exception for bags holding fresh produce.

"Consumption of plastic products, especially single-use items, has been consistently rising," said the Chinese government upon releasing the new regulations, according to The New York Times. "There needs to be stronger comprehensive planning and a systematic rollout to clean up plastic pollution."

The English-language newspaper China Daily says that plastic consumption, and plastic pollution, has risen in the country recently thanks to the growing use of food delivery and e-commerce services—both of which use a lot of plastic packaging.

The Chinese government has already taken some steps to address the problem by severely restricting its imports of plastic waste from other countries (a move that has thrown the American recycling industry into disarray) and prohibiting stores from giving out plastic bags for free.

China, according to one 2015 study, is responsible for almost 30 percent of the plastic waste that gets into the ocean each year. Communist-controlled Vietnam and North Korea, alongside other coastal East Asian countries like Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines, are also all major plastic polluters.

The U.S., by contrast, is responsible for less than one percent of marine plastic waste.

On the surface, that would appear to make China's plastics crackdown more justifiable than similar American bans targeting the minuscule number of bags, straws, and takeaway containers that end up as litter.

Yet the mere use of plastic products isn't, by itself, responsible for China's plastic pollution problem. As Reason's Ron Bailey noted in a 2018 Earth Day post, the "main reasons these countries are such big contributors of plastic marine debris is that their consumers' garbage is uncollected and frequently ends up in open dumps."

Rich countries with well-developed waste management systems manage to recycle, landfill, or incinerate almost all of their garbage. This is why wealthy Japan and South Korea emit much less plastic waste into the oceans than their regional neighbors.

Plastic prohibitions in China might cut down on the amount of waste in the near term, but a comprehensive long-term solution will require investing in better garbage collection and disposal.

It's also important to stress that whatever China's environmental problems, any prohibition is inevitably going to be enforced by an authoritarian, one-party state. On this front, African nations' experience with plastic bag bans is instructive. In 2008, Rwanda's government became one of the first to ban plastic bags. In 2016, Al Jazeera reported on the brutal measures government officials have since taken to stop the illegal importation of plastic bags from neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo:

If caught, smugglers say they are forced to destroy the bags, sometimes with their teeth. Worse, they are detained indefinitely and fined hundreds of dollars, which they have no means of paying. On the Congolese side, they say, beatings are common, and in exchange for sex, officers might allow smugglers to cross the border without paying a bribe.

Kenya has likewise banned plastic bags, only to see police harass scofflaws with fines and drug-war style raids. These very real costs to human freedom must be weighed against any environmental benefits of plastics bans. That's something the international environmental movement has been really bad at, preferring to praise authoritarian Rwanda as "one of the cleanest nations on earth" and an example of what can be accomplished if "the political will really exists and true efforts are made."

China would do better to keep growing richer, and then invest its prosperity in better waste management.

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  1. They’re going to recycle all of their plastic bags and straws into cheap plastic toys for Americans.

  2. In 2016, Al Jazeera reported on the brutal measures government officials have since taken to stop the illegal importation of plastic bags from neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo

    Now see, this is a government that’s serious about climate change.

  3. China has a lot of plastic waste they need to get rid of, they also have environmentalists complaining about the amount of coal they burn. I think I see a way they can get rid of the plastic waste and at the same time burn less coal. Sort of like killing two birds with one stone.

    1. Throw the environmentalists into the furnace?

      1. Why not? They are the ones that pushed us from paper bags to plastic bags.

  4. Kenya has likewise banned plastic bags, only to see police harass scofflaws with fines and drug-war style raids.

    It begins to make one think that environmentalism is going to be scarier than we imagined.

    1. At the “Presidential Debates”: “Would your administration go to war with the world’s worst polluters in order to save the planet? Mr Steyer, we’ll start with you.”

  5. One thing I noticed about plastic bag bans recently. Our major grocery chain just banned them. I noticed that when people bring their reusable bags, as we are doing now, they tend to load them themselves rather than having the checkout person or a bagger do it. So a lot of those jobs will be going away.

    1. My state doesn’t ban bags, but I still try to bring my reusable bags (I get a 5-cents-per-bag discount)

      Whenever I hand them to the bagger they look really confused, and last time they took the extra bags that weren’t needed and put them in a disposable plastic bag and handed them back to me

      So yeah, I prefer to bag my stuff myself too lol

    2. The only thing I noticed that happened when we banned plastic bags is the people who bring their own slow the checkout process down to a crawl.

      1. That too.

        Because the peanut butter goes here next to the canned tomatoes. The meat goes in this one because that is going in the freezer but the chicken goes over there because I’m going to make that today…

      2. When I go with my wife it is like she is playing grocery Tetris.

  6. Communist China is the latest country to crack down on single-use plastics.

    “Under penalty of death, prove that you have used that straw at least twice.”

  7. In 2008, Rwanda’s government became one of the first to ban plastic bags.

    Historically, this was Rwanda’s biggest problem.

    1. Proof they’re a developing nation.

  8. The editorial tenor of this article is outrageous anti-Chinese globalist propaganda. The Congo has nothing to do with China; no similar context at max stretch. The assumption of authoritarianism is another cannard of MSM Corporate Media. Ford and Firestone executives got a free ride from liability and accountability for the deaths of hundreds of Explorer drivers, for example, that were a direct result of their conspiracy to market inferior tires. In china executives are held responsible in case of consumer deaths due to their willful corruption and fgace capital punishment. We consumers in USA could be so lucky to have such criminal accountability? Why have not consumer advocates like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders not introduced legislation to at minimum allow corporate executives to face civil tort claims? Additionally, the rhetoric of this author is wholly anemic in its self-rightiousness to deny credit for China’s government oversight equal to that of Oregon and WA States in regard to plastic bags. We should never try to legitimize our libertarian sentiments against government intrusion to prevent intervention of environmental degredation that has direct effect on individual right to non-toxic environment. Individual rights don’t begin and end with our skin. So, why all the anti-Chinese totalitarian BS? I have lived in China and Russia enjoying greater feeling of personal freedom than times in USA.

    1. I have lived in China and Russia enjoying greater feeling of personal freedom than times in USA.
      May I suggest you do so again?

  9. On the Congolese side, they say, beatings are common, and in exchange for sex, officers might allow smugglers to cross the border without paying a bribe.

    Wait…reason is now against free trade and prostitution?

    1. Sounds a lot like South Chicago to me.

    2. Barter system bad, mkay?

  10. Confucius say: “Man who encounter white collared conservative get pointed at by plastic finger.”

  11. Nice Article | A necessary step to save environment. Get Govt. Job Updates

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