China’s ban on imported plastic waste could be a game changer

Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada.

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China’s ban on imports of recycled plastic from developed countries takes effect this month. It could be a game changer if it weans us off plastic and forces us to seek sustainable alternatives.

With no suitable strategies in place for dealing with this extra unexpected plastic, countries must quickly devise and implement alternative waste-management solutions (see also C. M. Rochman et al. Nature 494, 169–171; 2013). Many jurisdictions have legislation that prohibits dumping of plastic waste into landfill. And stockpiling plastic refuse is ill-advised, given the fire risk at storage sites (see, for example,

Moves to change consumer behaviour and implement strategies to cut plastic usage are gaining momentum. International policies and financial disincentives to curb the proliferation of single-use plastics (plastic bags and microbeads) are already showing positive results (D. Xanthos and T. R. Walker Mar. Pollut. Bull. 118, 17–26; 2017). These should be extended to include a ban on other items such as plastic drinking straws, and by widely introducing deposit-and-return schemes for plastic bottles.

Nature 553, 405 (2018)

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