A massive increase in biodegradable plastic production in China is outpacing the country’s ability to degrade the materials, consistent with a replacement report published by the charity Greenpeace.

China – the world’s largest producer of plastic waste – introduced bans earlier this year on several sorts of non-degradable single-use plastics, prompting manufacturers to build up production of biodegradable versions.

According to Greenpeace, 36 companies in China have planned or built new biodegradable plastic manufacturing facilities, adding production capacity of quite 4.4 million tonnes per annum – a quite sevenfold increase in but 12 months.

China’s e-commerce industry is on target to get an estimated 5 million tonnes of biodegradable plastic waste per annum by 2025, when the country’s single-use plastic bans inherit effect nationwide, the charity said.

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Biodegradable plastics are often weakened by living organisms, but most require specific industrial treatment at high temperatures to be degraded within six months. Left in landfills under normal circumstances, the materials can take for much longer to start to interrupt down and can still release carbon into the atmosphere.

“In the absence of controlled composting facilities, most biodegradable plastics find yourself in landfills, or worse, in rivers and therefore the ocean,” said Greenpeace’s East Asia plastics researcher Dr Molly Zhongnan Jia.

“Switching from one sort of plastic to a different cannot solve the plastics pollution crisis that we’re facing,” she said.
Chinese president Xi Jinping has in recent speeches stressed the importance of reducing plastic waste, but many major Chinese cities have little or no infrastructure in situ to deal with the expansion of biodegradable plastics production.

The BBC attempted to contact China’s ministry of ecology and environment for comment.

Plastic problems
One of the most challenges with biodegradable plastics is confusion about what biodegradable means. Most compostable plastics can’t be put into ordinary household recycling or degraded in home composting bins – meaning consumers often do not have any route to urge biodegradable packaging to the sorts of industrial facilities capable of processing it.

“It is basically important to possess clear infrastructure for what we call ‘end-of-life’. Plastic is single-use unless it are often recycled, or, even better, reused,” said Dr Rachael Rothman, the co-director of the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures at the University of Sheffield.

“Just because a plastic is biodegradable, that does not mean it’s not single use,” she said. “The worry is that if people think a cloth is biodegradable it gives them a licence to litter, which litter can still have a negative impact on the environment before it fully degrades.”
Another category of plastics made fully or partially from biological resources – often mentioned as “bioplastics” – aren’t necessarily biodegradable, adding to potential confusion for consumers.

Globally, the economic infrastructure needed to process compostable plastics – from collection through to high-temperature composting – doesn’t exist at the size needed to match the quantity of these plastics being produced.

“This may be a global problem, absolutely,” said Dr Rothman. “The UK has been consulting on bio-degradable and compostable plastics. While there’s a typical for compostable plastics, developing a universal standard for biodegradable plastics is incredibly difficult thanks to the range of biodegradable plastics and therefore the environmental conditions they’ll find yourself in if littered.

“It is vital to think about what the aim of the biodegradable plastic is and style for end-of-life from the very beginning.”

Shipping off waste
A study published in October within the journal Sciences Advances, which examined data from 2016, estimated that the US was the world’s leading plastic waste producer that year, followed by India then China. Taken collectively, the EU nations would be in second place, despite having only about 40% of the population of India and China.

The US ships large quantities of its plastic waste to other countries. In 2017 alone, China took in 7 million tonnes of plastic rubbish from Europe, Japan and therefore the US.

The small town with a unclean secret
China has since banned the import of 24 different grades of rubbish, but other countries including Malaysia, Turkey, the Philippines and Indonesia, which have already got to tackle large quantities of their own plastic waste, have picked up a number of the slack.

Some of these countries have since sent a number of the imported plastic rubbish back.
The Greenpeace report published on Thursday warns that replacing single-use plastics with high-volume production of varied biodegradable alternatives isn’t the answer to the plastics waste problem.

“This ‘biodegradables rush’ has got to stop. we’d like to require a cautious check out the effect and potential risks of mainstreaming these materials, and confirm we invest in solutions that really reduce plastic waste,” said Greenpeace’s Dr Jia.

“Reusable packaging systems and a discount in overall plastic use are far more promising strategies to stay plastic out of landfills and therefore the environment,” she said.

“It is vital to think about what the aim of the biodegradable plastic is and style for end-of-life from the very beginning.”

Shipping off waste
A study published in October within the journal Sciences Advances, which examined data from 2016, estimated that the US was the world’s leading plastic waste producer that year, followed by India then China. Taken collectively, the EU nations would be in second place, despite having only about 40% of the population of India and China.

The US ships large quantities of its plastic waste to other countries. In 2017 alone, China took in 7 million tonnes of plastic rubbish from Europe, Japan and therefore the US.

The small town with a unclean secret
China has since banned the import of 24 different grades of rubbish, but other countries including Malaysia, Turkey, the Philippines and Indonesia, which have already got to tackle large quantities of their own plastic waste, have picked up a number of the slack.

Some of these countries have since sent a number of the imported plastic rubbish back.
The Greenpeace report published on Thursday warns that replacing single-use plastics with high-volume production of varied biodegradable alternatives isn’t the answer to the plastics waste problem.

“This ‘biodegradables rush’ has got to stop. we’d like to require a cautious check out the effect and potential risks of mainstreaming these materials, and confirm we invest in solutions that really reduce plastic waste,” said Greenpeace’s Dr Jia.

“Reusable packaging systems and a discount in overall plastic use are far more promising strategies to stay plastic out of landfills and therefore the environment,” she said.

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