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The Chinese import ban and its impact on global plastic waste trade

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Science Advances

American Association for the Advancement of Science

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      Abstract

      For decades China imported much of the world’s plastic waste; but a recent import ban requires new ideas and systemic change.

      Abstract

      The rapid growth of the use and disposal of plastic materials has proved to be a challenge for solid waste management systems with impacts on our environment and ocean. While recycling and the circular economy have been touted as potential solutions, upward of half of the plastic waste intended for recycling has been exported to hundreds of countries around the world. China, which has imported a cumulative 45% of plastic waste since 1992, recently implemented a new policy banning the importation of most plastic waste, begging the question of where the plastic waste will go now. We use commodity trade data for mass and value, region, and income level to illustrate that higher-income countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation have been exporting plastic waste (70% in 2016) to lower-income countries in the East Asia and Pacific for decades. An estimated 111 million metric tons of plastic waste will be displaced with the new Chinese policy by 2030. As 89% of historical exports consist of polymer groups often used in single-use plastic food packaging (polyethylene, polypropylene, and polyethylene terephthalate), bold global ideas and actions for reducing quantities of nonrecyclable materials, redesigning products, and funding domestic plastic waste management are needed.

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      Marine pollution. Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean.

      Plastic debris in the marine environment is widely documented, but the quantity of plastic entering the ocean from waste generated on land is unknown. By linking worldwide data on solid waste, population density, and economic status, we estimated the mass of land-based plastic waste entering the ocean. We calculate that 275 million metric tons (MT) of plastic waste was generated in 192 coastal countries in 2010, with 4.8 to 12.7 million MT entering the ocean. Population size and the quality of waste management systems largely determine which countries contribute the greatest mass of uncaptured waste available to become plastic marine debris. Without waste management infrastructure improvements, the cumulative quantity of plastic waste available to enter the ocean from land is predicted to increase by an order of magnitude by 2025.
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        Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made

        We present the first ever global account of the production, use, and end-of-life fate of all plastics ever made by humankind.
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          Circular economy in China – the environmental dimension of the harmonious society

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            Author and article information

            Affiliations
            College of Engineering, New Materials Institute, University of Georgia, Riverbend Research Lab South, 220 Riverbend Road, Athens, GA 30602, USA.
            Author notes
            [*]Corresponding author. Email: jjambeck@123456uga.edu
            Journal
            Sci Adv
            Sci Adv
            SciAdv
            advances
            Science Advances
            American Association for the Advancement of Science
            2375-2548
            June 2018
            20 June 2018
            : 4
            : 6
            6010324
            aat0131
            10.1126/sciadv.aat0131
            Copyright © 2018 The Authors, some rights reserved; exclusive licensee American Association for the Advancement of Science. No claim to original U.S. Government Works. Distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial License 4.0 (CC BY-NC).

            This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, so long as the resultant use is not for commercial advantage and provided the original work is properly cited.

            Categories
            Research Article
            Research Articles
            SciAdv r-articles
            Environmental Studies
            Environmental Studies
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