China: Single-Use Plastic Straw and Bag Ban Takes Effect

(Mar. 23, 2021) On January 1, 2021, a plastic ban took effect in China that prohibits restaurants throughout the country from providing single-use plastic straws and stores in the major cities from providing plastic shopping bags. These are among the restrictions on the production, sale, and use of single-use plastic products set out in a policy document jointly issued by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and the Ministry of Ecology and Environment on January 16, 2020. (The Opinions on Further Strengthening the Cleanup of Plastic Pollution (NDRC Opinions).) Provinces throughout the country have since issued their plans for implementing the national policy.

Plastic Bans

The NDRC Opinions lay out the following five-year roadmap to restrict the use of plastic products such as shopping bags, straws, and utensils by 2020, 2022, and 2025, respectively.

  • Nondegradable plastic bags: These bags will be banned in shopping malls, supermarkets, pharmacies, book stores, and food takeout services in the major cities by the end of 2020, and in other cities and towns by 2022. Markets selling fresh produce are exempt from the ban until 2025.
  • Single-use plastic utensils: By the end of 2020, restaurants throughout the country will be prohibited from using nondegradable single-use plastic straws. Other single-use plastic utensils will be banned for on-site dining in the cities by the end of 2020 and in the counties by 2022, and their use in takeout in the cities must be reduced by 30% by 2025.
  • Single-use plastic items in hotels: Star-rated hotels throughout the country will be prohibited from voluntarily providing these items by 2022. The restriction will be expanded to other hotels and homestays by 2025.
  • Plastic postal and courier packages: Postal and courier services in specified developed areas, including Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Fujian, and Guangdong, will be prohibited from using nondegradable plastic packaging bags by 2022. This ban will be applied nationwide by 2025.

The production of cosmetic products containing plastic microbeads is also banned, according to the NDRC Opinions, and the sale of such products will be banned by the end of 2022. Other plastic products that are banned from being produced or sold in China include (1) ultra-thin plastic shopping bags with a thickness of less than 0.025 mm, (2) polyethylene agricultural mulching films with a thickness of less than 0.01 mm, and (3) single-use foam clamshells and plastic cotton swabs.

Penalties

Recent revisions to China’s Law on the Prevention and Control of Environmental Pollution Caused by Solid Waste (Solid Waste Law) took effect on September 1, 2020. Under this law, local authorities may impose a fine of 10,000 to 100,000 yuan (about US$1,545 to $15,460) on those failing to comply with the state’s restrictions on the use of nondegradable plastic bags and other single-use plastic products. (Solid Waste Law art. 106.)

Solid Waste Imports

The NDRC Opinions also mention that importing plastic waste into the country is completely banned. China announced the plan to phase out solid waste imports in 2017, and a full ban on importing all materials it classifies as solid waste took effect on January 1, 2021. Under the Solid Waste Law, for violations of the law against importing solid waste into Chinese territory, the customs agency will order the return of the waste and impose a fine of 500,000 to 5 million yuan (about US$77,305 to $773,050). (Art. 115.)

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