National Sword could displace 111M tonnes of plastic waste by 2030

An estimated 111 million metric tonnes of plastic waste will be displaced by China’s National Sword policy by 2030 around the world, according to new research.

The Chinese import ban and its impact on global waste trade research paper published in the journal Science Advances reports that new global ideas are needed to reduce the amount of non-recyclable materials, including redesigning products and funding domestic plastic waste management.

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The report, authored by researchers at the University of Georgia, said China had imported 106 million tonnes of plastic waste since 1992, which makes up more than 45 per cent of total global plastic imports.

The National Sword Policy has implemented new restrictions on the contamination rate for imported waste, requiring a cleaner and more processed version of materials such as plastics, metals, paper, cardboard and textiles.

“The displaced plastic waste is equal to nearly half (47 per cent) of all plastic waste that has been imported globally since reporting began in 1988,” the report said.

“Only 9% of plastic waste has been recycled globally, with the overwhelming majority of global plastic waste being landfilled or ending up contaminating the environment (80 per cent).

“Plastic packaging and single-use items enter the waste stream immediately after use, contributing to a cumulative total of 6.3 billion MT of plastic waste generated worldwide.”

The report warns that if no adjustments are made in solid waste management, then much of the waste that would have been diverted from landfill by customers paying for a recycling service will be landfilled.

“Both the displaced plastic waste and future increases in plastic recycling must be addressed immediately. Initially, the countries exporting the most plastic waste can use this as an opportunity to develop and expand internal markets,” the report said.

“If domestic recycling of plastic waste is not possible, then this constraint reinforces the motivation to reduce use and redesign plastic packaging and products so that they retain their value and are more recyclable in domestic markets.”