Reconsidering policies

Departments - Commodities Plastics

The Chinese government has started to issue proposals that could lead to bans on some single-use plastics.

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February 4, 2020

The Chinese government has begun issuing proposals that could result in bans on several types of single-use plastics. A London-based commodity analyst says the move potentially could have enormous effects on plastics supply and demand globally.

“It is a very reasonable scenario that China will lead the world in banning single-use plastics that have no real societal value whilst also creating a modern, state-of-the-art recycling industry that competes with the very best in the world,” says John Richardson, a senior consultant covering Asia at London-based Independent Commodity Intelligence Services (ICIS). “The implications both for virgin PE (polyethylene) polymers demand in China and for the amount of that demand which is met by recycled production are likely to be very significant.

“China is the biggest polymer import market in the world, especially for [PE], around half of the demand for which is in single-use plastics,” he adds. “So, whatever happens in China is a big deal for the global polymers business.”

“It is a very reasonable scenario that China will lead the world in banning single-use plastics that have no real societal value whilst also creating a modern, state-of-the-art recycling industry that competes with the very best in the world.” – John Richardson, Independent Commodity Intelligence Services

The nation’s National Development and Reform Commission and Ministry of Ecology and Environment have indicated that nondegradable plastic shopping bags and plastic straws will be part of a five-year plan to ban or restrict production, sale and use of what is likely to be many other types of disposable plastic products.

“In parallel,” he continues, “there are reports that China is to modernize its plastics recycling business as a means of reducing dependence on imported virgin resins and adding value to its economy. The current local recycling industry is, on the whole, highly disorganized and inefficient.”

China already has prohibited postconsumer plastic scrap from entering the country, and recent amendments to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal could further affect the flow of plastic scrap globally. The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), Washington, reports in Issue 4 of the “ISRI Plastics Beat” e-newsletter, issued in mid-January, that the Task Team within the Organization of Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD) formed to deliberate policy on end-of-life plastics trade within OECD countries hosted its second meeting in December 2019.

ISRI says the OECD “agreed in 2001 to automatically adopt Basel Convention changes into the OECD Guidance Manual for the Control of Transboundary Movements of Recoverable Wastes for purposes of ease in trade ... . But the OECD also included a mechanism for objecting to the automatic adoption,” which the U.S. government did in July 2019.

ISRI says the Task Team must find middle ground between automatic adoption of these amendments that require prior consent to ship mixed plastics and the status quo the U.S. is pursuing.

ISRI says it “is fully aligned with the U.S. government in terms of promoting free and fair trade of recyclable commodities and ensuring this process does not set a precedent for future scrap trade restrictions within the OECD and in other forums.”

The association adds that the European Union “does not have a consensus among its member states” and, therefore, is not negotiating.