New plastic restriction order: more plastic pollution “dead knot” beyond the limit

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Plastic packaging is widely used in express delivery industry. Picture / visual China
“Plastic restriction order” becomes a real “plastic selling order”
Shopping malls gain considerable profits through sales and become the biggest beneficiary
Transfer of governance costs to the environment
But it did not promote the green production of plastic bags
Establishment of sales and recovery system
New plastic restriction order: more plastic pollution “dead knot” beyond the limit
Our reporter / sujed
Issued on April 13, 2020, 943 China News Weekly
In 2019, 7.08 million express mails will be sent to the whole country every hour. According to the 2019 China Express development index report released by the State Post Office on March 27, the total volume of express business in China has reached 63.52 billion, and the daily average volume of express processing has exceeded 170 million.
These express uses a large number of plastic packaging products such as adhesive tape and packaging bags. According to a report released last year by green and equality, the express industry consumed more than 39.8 billion meters of tape in 2018. These plastic tapes can wrap around the earth nearly 1000 times, and in 2015, it was 425 times.
With the increasingly rich consumer scenarios, the battlefield of plastic waste has gradually transferred to the Internet, and the e-commerce, express delivery and take out industries have become the main battlefield. In order to solve these problems, on January 19, 2020, the national development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of ecological environment jointly issued the opinions on further strengthening plastic pollution control, which is also known as the “new plastic restriction order” to distinguish it from the “plastic restriction order” launched in 2008.
According to CCTV finance and economics report, in the eight years since the implementation of the old plastic restriction order, the plastic shopping bags used in the main retail places of commodities across the country have saved about 70 billion, with an average annual savings of 8.75 billion. However, in 2015 alone, the national express industry consumed 14.7 billion plastic bags, and the three domestic delivery platforms consumed at least 7.3 billion plastic packages a year, with an increase far exceeding the reduction.
The more plastic exceeds the limit, the more it becomes a “dead knot”.
fight on despite repeated setbacks
Since the reform and opening up, there have been three stages before and after the plastic restriction order, and there are always disputes in the process of policy implementation.
In 1986, plastic fast food box was first used on the railway, which was favored for its convenience and low price. However, a large number of white lunch boxes were discarded along the railway, which brought serious “white pollution”. In 2001, the former State Economic and Trade Commission issued an urgent notice to stop the production of disposable foam plastic tableware immediately, which is the earliest version of the plastic restriction order.
However, how to deal with disposable foam plastic tableware, the policy later appeared to swing. In 2013, the national development and Reform Commission issued the catalogue of industrial structure adjustment guidance, which was deleted from the catalogue of elimination category, and the disposable foam tableware was re legalized. However, this year’s new plastic restriction order has again blacklisted it.
The alternation of prohibition and loosening policy is easy to lead to rebound of plastic restriction effect. Deng Yixiang, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Environmental Sciences, previously wrote: “due to the complexity of plastic waste management, relevant regulations on plastic management need to be repeatedly demonstrated, and the introduction of regulations needs to be very careful to avoid inconsistent issues as much as possible.”
After 2007, the movement of limiting plastic production by the whole people appeared. In December 2007, the general office of the State Council issued the notice on restricting the production and sale of plastic shopping bags, and the Ministry of Commerce, the national development and Reform Commission and the State Administration for Industry and Commerce issued the administrative measures for the paid use of plastic shopping bags in commodity retail places in May of the following year. These two special documents were called the “plastic restriction order”. In the plastic restriction order, there are two most important policies: one is to prohibit the production, sale and use of plastic shopping bags with a thickness of less than 0.025mm nationwide, that is, the ultra-thin plastic shopping bags in daily life; the other is to implement the paid use system of plastic shopping bags.
However, the implementation of the plastic restriction order for more than ten years has been the focus of controversy. “The old version of the new plastic makes you feel like a gourd in a pot.” Xie Xinyuan, policy director of the zero waste alliance, told China News Weekly that the plastic restriction order is limited to plastic bags that can be carried, while the supermarket’s plastic trays, plastic films and flat bags can still be used casually. Especially in many supermarkets, even roll plastic bags filled with bulk goods are rampant, used without restraint, and even taken home in rolls by many people. Some scholars said that this triggered “a certain moral crisis, and some consumers took the opportunity to tear a large number of free plastic bags when shopping, so as to replace the paid plastic shopping bags.”
The zero waste alliance is jointly sponsored by a number of public welfare organizations and public representatives across the country, and is committed to promoting waste disposal. The team found that after the implementation of the policy, the implementation effect of large supermarkets and chain stores is better, but the market is still a disaster area of disposable plastic bags. In the past 12 years, law enforcement departments around the country have launched governance actions against the market every once in a while, but the unqualified plastic bags in the market always “spring breeze blows again”.
“In 2016, we found that few fair markets use plastic bags that meet the standards. At that time, we also proposed which environmental protection organization can turn a fair market from substandard to qualified, and will give 10000 yuan as a reward.” Yao Jia, the initiator of the joint investigation team, told China News Weekly, but no one dared to take over the task and thought it was impossible to complete it.
After four years of efforts, Yao Jia and volunteers surveyed more than 700 markets across the country and promoted more than 100 markets to use plastic bags up to the standard. At the same time, the reduction of plastic bags is considerable, and it is estimated that 60 million plastic bags can be saved. However, the coverage of Yao Jia’s team’s survey is only a drop in the ocean compared with the number of markets in China as a whole. In Shanghai, for example, there are 989 vegetable markets and thousands of micro markets.
“There are so many stores, farmers’ markets, restaurants, mobile vendors, etc. in China, it is basically impossible for environmental regulators to effectively supervise the use of plastic bags. What’s more, in order to attract customers, some operators often play the cat and mouse game, using the charging plastic bags to deal with the inspection, but secretly providing unqualified plastic bags for free. ” Yang Limin, a lecturer in the school of trade negotiation at Shanghai University of foreign trade and economic cooperation, wrote that there were problems in places such as fairs where law enforcement and supervision could not be achieved.

“The responsibilities of government departments are not clearly defined, such as environmental protection department, market supervision and management department, agricultural and rural department, housing and construction department and other departments in plastic waste management, which makes it difficult to implement the regulatory responsibilities.” According to Deng Yixiang, in the past, the relevant provisions were too abstract, mostly principled, and few punishment measures were taken for violations of the provisions, which was not easy to implement in practice.
The policy goal of banning ultra-thin plastic shopping bags has not been fully realized, and the paid use of plastic bags has also gone astray. In many media reports, in the early stage, the use of plastic bags such as supermarkets and shopping malls has declined sharply, but after a period of time, when consumers are numb to the “charge lever” of two or three cents, the use of plastic bags has started to rebound in large quantities. “Plastic restriction order” has become a real “plastic selling order”. Shopping malls have gained considerable profits through sales and become the biggest beneficiary. The cost of management was transferred to the environment, but it did not promote the establishment of green production, sales and recycling system of plastic bags.
Policy failure has long attracted the attention of policy makers. At the beginning of 2018, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the implementation of the plastic restriction order, the national development and Reform Commission launched the activity of “I offer suggestions for the prevention and control of plastic waste pollution” on its portal website, soliciting opinions and suggestions on the control of plastic restriction.
It took two years from soliciting opinions to the promulgation of the new plastic restriction order. “Policy makers have learned plastic knowledge for at least two years,” a personage from the plastic industry association, who did not want to be named, told China News Weekly. The new deal was expected to come out in 2018 and 2019, but it was postponed many times. “Many people are urging the policy to come out, but for the sake of caution, it is difficult to come out as quickly as the old version of the plastic restriction order.”
The new deal basically covers the categories that have attracted wide attention in the past few years: non degradable plastic bags, agricultural mulch, disposable foam plastic tableware, disposable plastic cotton swabs, daily chemical products with plastic beads. In the specific application scenario, commercial supermarket, market, express delivery, take out and other fields are the focus of plastic pollution control work.
Jiang Jianguo, a professor in the Department of environmental engineering at Tsinghua University, told China News Weekly that unlike in the past, the new deal has clearly set a time node for completing tasks. For different products and regions, the government has formulated three time nodes in 2020, 2022 and 2025 respectively.
The new deal’s specifications have also been significantly improved. In September last year, the 10th meeting of the Central Committee for comprehensively deepening reform deliberated and adopted 10 opinions, including the opinions on further strengthening plastic pollution control. The head of the national development and Reform Commission also said: “the Central Committee for comprehensively deepening reform has made the formulation of a comprehensive treatment plan for” white pollution “a key reform task.”
New scene becomes new battlefield
The new policy focuses on express delivery and take out industries.
According to the Research Report on the production characteristics and management status of China’s express packaging waste jointly released by three environmental protection organizations, such as Greenpeace, get rid of plastic binding and China Environmental Protection Federation, China’s e-commerce “double 11” Shopping Festival was launched in 2009. After seven years, the trading volume first exceeded 100 billion yuan in 2015 and 400 billion yuan in 2019. Among the express packaging materials, 851800 tons of plastic packaging materials are used, accounting for nearly 10% of the total weight of express packaging materials, but the difficulty of recycling plastic products is far greater than that of paper.
Degradable environmental protection garbage bag produced by Nanle County bio based material industrial park, Henan Province. Map / Xinhua
In view of the problems existing in the express plastic packaging, the new policy proposes to gradually expand the pilot from some provinces and cities to the whole country: “by the end of 2022, the post express outlets in Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Fujian, Guangdong and other provinces and cities will first prohibit the use of non degradable plastic packaging bags, disposable plastic woven bags, etc., and reduce the use of non degradable plastic tape. By the end of 2025, the use of non degradable plastic packaging bags, plastic tapes, disposable plastic woven bags, etc. will be prohibited in Postal Express outlets nationwide. ”
Compared with express delivery, it is more difficult to supervise the delivery field. According to the data released by trust data, the mobile Internet big data monitoring platform, it is estimated that the transaction volume of China’s takeout industry will reach 603.5 billion yuan in 2019, an increase of 30% year-on-year, continuing to maintain a rapid growth trend, while bringing a large amount of plastic waste.
The Greenpeace survey found that an average of 3.27 disposable plastic lunch boxes (cups) were consumed per take out. Take meituan for example, meituan takeout is the largest takeout platform in China. On July 27 last year, Wang Xing, founder of meituan.com, tweeted that the number of orders completed by meituan in a single day exceeded 30 million. According to this calculation, only meituan takes out one, the daily order can consume more than 90 million disposable plastic packaging.
For the problems existing in the takeout industry, the new policy proposes that the nationwide catering industry will prohibit the use of non degradable disposable plastic straw by the end of 2020; from prefecture level cities to districts and counties, the catering hall food service will gradually prohibit the use of non degradable disposable plastic tableware. By 2025, the consumption intensity of non degradable disposable plastic tableware will be reduced by 30% in the catering delivery field of cities above prefecture level.
In September 2017, the Chongqing Green Federation, an environmental protection organization, sued hungry, meituan and Baidu takeout platforms for the serious environmental damage caused by the waste generated by takeout, requiring the three platforms to take responsibility for this. Since then, meituan and hungry have successively added the “no tableware” remark option on the order confirmation page, and formulated the medium and long-term environmental protection plan, but the effect is not significant.
“Although we can advocate merchants to reduce the use of disposable plastic lunch boxes, advocate users to choose no tableware, and advocate users to carry out correct garbage classification after meals, we can never restrict merchants and users by compulsory means,” the person in charge told China News Weekly
“At present, the state has not promulgated special laws and regulations. E-commerce platforms cannot force businesses to use what kind of packaging products, nor can they force the use of environmental protection plastic products through agreements.” Guo Hu, deputy director of Hangzhou e-commerce legal affairs department of the capital, told China News Weekly.

This also means that the e-commerce platform and take out platform are lack of both the means to restrict the settled businesses and the motivation to restrict themselves. Jiang Jianguo, a professor in the Department of environmental engineering at Tsinghua University, told China News Weekly that the difficulty of new industries such as express delivery lies in the dilemma between policy makers: whether to encourage enterprises to propose solutions or the government to take compulsory measures? If we take compulsory measures, we will worry about the impact on industrial development.
Data opacity is also one of the problems of governance. For the problem of plastic consumption caused by takeout, meituan, hungry and other platforms have formulated environmental protection plans respectively. However, no one platform has published in detail the use and reduction of plastic packaging.
Tang Damin, director of Greenpeace plastics project, told China News Weekly: “the amount of food packaging is a trade secret, and merchants are unwilling to provide it to the platform. However, without specific consumption data, it is difficult for the government to make scientific decisions. The industry needs to establish a data statistics system first. ”
The degradability of “good or bad”
Since this year, Liu Wei, vice chairman of Hainan Saigao New Material Co., Ltd., has frequently traveled to the airport to meet customers.
The company is now hot, meeting, receiving customers and government leaders become the norm.
The reason for the company’s popularity is that saigaoxin material is the only company in Hainan that can produce biodegradable materials at present. Last year, Hainan issued the implementation plan for banning the production, sale and use of disposable non degradable plastic products in Hainan Province, from “plastic restriction” to “plastic prohibition”, rejecting “white pollution” in the form of a negative list. From April this year, key industries and places in Hainan will gradually say goodbye to disposable non degradable plastic products such as plastic bags and take out boxes.
Plastic prohibition is one of the 12 leading projects in the construction of Hainan free trade zone. In terms of product supply after plastic prohibition, products such as fully biodegradable plastic products, paper products and cloth products can be used as substitutes for disposable non degradable plastic products. Degradable plastic products are the most feasible and the most concerned.
The first batch of domestic companies to enter the degradable plastic products industry appeared in 1999, and Liu Wei entered the industry in 2006, which is the second batch of practitioners in China. However, the name of degradable plastic products is good or not. A number of enterprises have entered, but few survived. Liu Weihe and the company have also experienced a long period of pain. In his opinion, the biggest dilemma of this industry is that the market capacity is small. “By 2008, the company’s technology has matured, and the main challenge is that the market acceptance is low, and people think this product is expensive.”
“Supermarkets can make money selling ordinary plastic bags, but they can’t make money selling degradable plastic bags. If we want to increase the purchase cost of consumers, supermarkets will also worry about the reduction of customer flow. The farmer’s market is even more impossible to use. One yuan for a dish, two or three cents for a bag, accounting for two or three percent of the sales cost. The peddler can’t afford it, and the customer isn’t willing to pay. ” Liu Wei said helplessly.
But in fact, although the renewable plastic bags are more expensive than the ordinary plastic bags, they are not as profitable as expected. “There is no huge profit in the renewable plastic industry, which may not be as good as ordinary plastic bags in terms of profit margin,” Liu Wei told China News Weekly. This is determined by the characteristics of processing enterprises, which only charge a little processing fee. ”
In fact, Hainan is not the first province to fully promote degradable plastic bags. From January 1, 2015, Jilin Province required to prohibit the production, sale and provision of non degradable plastic shopping bags and plastic tableware in the whole province, and formulated special standards and regulations for degradable plastic. Enterprises and individuals who violate the regulations will be fined up to 30000 yuan and 200 yuan respectively.
Jilin’s first ban on crabs attracted national attention at that time, but the implementation effect did not reach the goal. Last May, the zero waste alliance in Changchun City, Jilin Province, found that the promotion of local plastic ban and degradation is not satisfactory. Xie Xinyuan introduced nine biodegradable companies into an industrial park in Changchun City. As of the end of May last year, three have closed down, three have been shut down for a long time, and three enterprises still in operation either rely on exports or are in a state of continuous loss.
The above enterprise staff told the zero waste alliance that the main reason for this situation is that the actual promotion of degradable bags in the market of Jilin Province is not strong enough, the demand is low, and the enterprises can not get enough orders to ensure the operation, while some favorable policies given by the government in the early stage of investment promotion, such as financial subsidies and free factories, are gradually cancelled or reduced, resulting in the enterprises unable to achieve profit and loss balance Heng. At the same time, a small number of enterprises are also suspected of defrauding government subsidies. They entered the park in the early stage of Changchun municipal government’s investment promotion and did not actually operate after obtaining subsidies.
Changchun City has implemented the five-year plastic ban order, which consumes a lot of administrative costs. According to the report of CCTV international online, from the implementation of the plastic ban order to September 2018, Changchun Administration for Industry and Commerce dispatched 37380 law enforcement personnel, 12460 law enforcement vehicles, 1350 notice of correction and 326 administrative interviews.
However, the effect is not satisfactory, and the ban basically failed. In the largest Guangfu Road wholesale market in Changchun, zero waste alliance investigated 18 plastic bag wholesale stores, 8 of which sold traditional plastic bags, 5 of which had traditional plastic bags and fake degradable bags, and only 5 of which had degradable bags. In the consumer end, the zero waste alliance survey found that only 40.95% of shops provide degradable plastic bags, 53% of the public clearly said that they do not know how to distinguish, and only less than 1.4% of the public said that they will coordinate the treatment of degradable bags and perishable waste.
The embarrassment of the local ban is that the huge market demand can not be met or replaced. Xie Xinyuan believes that there are three dilemmas in the case of Jilin: it is difficult to prohibit the use of ordinary plastic bags, fake degradable plastic bags are mixed with fish and eyes, the bigger problem is that the degradable plastic bags are difficult to be truly degraded, “half of the residents use degradable bags, the other half do not use them, which is very bad. In the degradation process of degradable plastic bag compost, if the non degradable plastic bag is mixed, the degradation effect will not be achieved. ”

“There are no ordinary plastic bags in the garbage pile, so the composting effect of degradable plastic bags can be guaranteed. Otherwise, when two kinds of plastic bags are mixed together, the use of degradable plastic bags is totally meaningless. ” Liu Wei said frankly.
The degradable plastics industry has developed for more than 20 years in China, but it can’t be popularized on a large scale. Wang Jun, Professor of Packaging Engineering Department of Jiangnan University and deputy director of national light industry packaging product quality supervision and inspection center, told China News Weekly that the global production capacity is only one million tons, and there are problems of insufficient production capacity, high cost and poor processability of degradable plastic products. “It’s difficult for the new policy to try to really apply renewable plastic in a certain scenario, but how effective it is now.” Conclusion.
Is degradable material the ultimate solution to white pollution? “Degradability is not equal to true degradation,” Wang Jun told China News Weekly. After the recyclable plastic bags are recycled, they need to be composted, which is not to say that they can be degraded when thrown on the ground. If the degradable material cannot be applied in a wide range, centralized and large-scale, it will also become disposable plastic bags. ”
Source and terminal are short boards
“The biggest problem with plastic bags is that they are thrown away when they are used up. They are not recycled as resource products. Their life cycle is very short.” Jiang Nanqing, Secretary General of the plastics recycling branch of China synthetic resin supply and Marketing Association, told China News Weekly.
“It’s not that there’s something wrong with these plastic products, it’s that they’re used in an unreasonable way.” Wang Jun said that the current plastic products are basically disposable, without considering the recyclability, the recycling channels are not sound, and the recycling efficiency and value are relatively low. When plastic products are used up, they will be discarded or buried, causing harm to the environment.
For this reason, this year’s new plastic policy proposes to establish and improve the management system of production, circulation, use, recycling and disposal of plastic products, so as to effectively and orderly control plastic pollution.
“Compared with the previous, the progress of the new plastic restriction order is to focus on the construction of the overall plastic recycling industry chain. Put forward the construction of plastic recycling management system and steps, from different levels, such as standardizing the production of enterprises, improving the waste recycling system. There is also a comprehensive framework and system planning for supporting regulatory, policy and scientific research and development. ” Jiang Nanqing wrote earlier.
Jiang Nanqing left UNEP in September 2018 to enter the plastics recycling industry. She told China News Weekly that the new plastic policy is a guiding opinion, and local governments need to formulate corresponding policies according to the actual situation. She suggested that the producer responsibility system should be implemented, “the production enterprises should be responsible for the abandonment and scrap of plastic, not only let the recycling enterprises pay for it.” For example, the European Union has established an independent recycling system for renewable resources. The operating costs of the system are borne by the producers and the municipal government. The producers include not only brands such as Coca Cola and Nestle, but also chemical enterprises upstream of the plastic industry.
In May 2019, the “EU version of plastic ban order” officially came into force, stipulating that the use of disposable plastic products with substitutes, such as plastic straw, disposable tableware, cotton swab, etc., will be prohibited by 2021, while member states need to achieve the goal of recycling 90% of beverage bottles by 2029. And the European Union also banned the production and use of oxidative degradable plastics. The European Union Plastic act also requires enterprises to bear EPR and economic responsibility for waste management and pollution control of disposable plastic products.
The fragility of recycling system has always been one of the cruxes of China’s persistent plastic waste disease. “There has been a clear plan for resource recycling, indicating how to solve the problem of plastic recycling, but there has been no good landing plan.” Jiang Nanqing said.
After the ban on the import of waste plastics in 2017, the domestic plastic recycling system has undergone a round of reshuffle, facing the problem of reconstruction of the recycling system. Jiang Nanqing introduced that the price of crude oil, the most upstream raw material in the plastic industry, is very low. Recently, the price per barrel is more than $20. With the continuous expansion of Sinopec’s production capacity, the original plastic is getting cheaper and cheaper. In contrast, due to the high cost of recycling old plastic, recycled plastic is more expensive than the original plastic, few people will choose to recycle plastic bags and other products, which makes it difficult to establish a recycling system.
“The new deal is of great significance, but how effective it can be at the practical level remains to be seen.” Tang told China News Weekly that environmental protection organizations, experts and scholars in the industry pay more attention to and expect supporting policies.
In the view of many insiders, after 12 years of twists and turns of the old plastic restriction order, the implementation of the new plastic restriction order and the reduction of the use of plastic bags can no longer rely on the simple management thinking of “conscious” consumers or “paid use” of supermarkets. Lack of relevant system support, relying solely on “economic leverage” for regulation and control, without getting through all links of the plastic limit chain, we will never be able to solve the deadlock of more and more restrictions.
According to Jiang Jianguo, the treatment of plastic waste should be controlled from the source. First, we should clarify which enterprises are producing ultra-thin plastic bags, whether they are regular enterprises or small workshops. “Like the previous treatment of strip steel, only by seizing the illegal strip steel production enterprises can we cut off the circulation channels.”
Alternative is not a once and for all solution, and even some people worry that one plastic pollution will replace another. As a manufacturer of degradable plastic products, Liu Wei believes that no matter what alternatives are, they are not really environmentally friendly, and there are carbon emissions, “reducing is the real environmental protection, and we firmly believe in this concept.”