The evolution of global plastic circulation system and China's countermeasures

- Jan 09, 2020-

On July 18, 2017, the general office of the state council issued the implementation plan for the reform of the management system for the import of solid waste by prohibiting the entry of foreign garbage, proposing that China ban the import of foreign garbage such as waste plastics from December 31, 2018.The ban had a huge impact on the existing global plastic recycling system, changed the trade pattern of developed countries dumping waste to developing countries, and had a profound impact on the development model of China's recycled plastic industry, which has long relied on imported waste plastic.In this context, it is necessary for us to fully understand and predict the evolution trend of the global plastic recycling system, clarify the role of China in this recycling system, and explore the future direction and key strategies of the development of China's recycled plastic industry.The global plastic circulation system presents four characteristicsThe global plastic recycling system consists of the production, consumption, recycling and trade of plastics.Among them, the recycling of waste plastic is the key to the formation of the global plastic recycling system.Since 1980, with the rapid growth of waste plastic production, countries have introduced plastic recycling and recycling policies, and it has become a global consensus to build a global plastic recycling system and realize the closed-circuit recycling of plastics.In general, the current global plastic recycling system presents four features:First, the scale of global plastic production and recycling is expanding rapidly.The global mass production and use of plastics began around 1950.By the end of 2015, global annual plastic production reached 322 million tons, and cumulative production reached 8.3 billion tons.Without a global convention or rule banning plastics, cumulative global plastic production is expected to grow to 26 billion tons by 2050.At the same time, in the context of globalization, the number of countries participating in the global plastic recycling is increasing, and the global trade network of various plastic products is becoming more and more complex.The number of countries participating in the waste plastics trade has increased from more than 20 in 1976 to more than 120 in 2016.Second, less than 10% of the world's waste plastic is recycled.At present, most waste plastics are not recycled efficiently.According to us researchers, by 2015, a total of 6.3 billion tons of waste plastic had been produced globally, of which 12% had been burned, 79% had been buried or dumped into the natural environment, and only 9% had been recycled.If the recycling rate of plastic is not improved, it is estimated that 12 billion tons of waste plastic will be buried, burned or thrown into the natural environment by 2050, which may lead to serious pollution of the ocean, atmosphere and soil.Thirdly, the recycling of plastics has both positive and negative effects.Recycling of waste plastics can bring dual benefits of resources and environment. On the one hand, recycling of waste plastics can reduce consumption of petroleum or bio-based raw materials and bring benefits of resource conservation.On the other hand, using waste plastics to produce recycled plastics has the environmental benefits of reducing energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions compared to using petroleum to produce primary plastics.However, due to the backward management level and technology, there may be a variety of regional environmental impacts and health risks in the process of plastic recycling, which brings great pressure to the natural ecological environment and human health in some countries and regions.Therefore, we need to analyze the costs and benefits of the recycled plastics industry dialectically and comprehensively from multiple perspectives: we cannot only emphasize the effects of resource saving and carbon emission reduction, but also cannot only see the negative effects caused in some regions.Finally, the pattern of global trade in waste plastics is changing rapidly.The global trade in waste plastics has been growing since 1977.Between 1992 and 2016, total exports of waste plastics from all countries increased from 910,000 tons to 15.59 million tons.In this trading system, the role of different countries is not the same, generally presents a large number of developed countries to developing countries to export waste plastic important characteristics.As far as a single country is concerned, its role in the global trade pattern is closely related to the degree of economic development.Japan, for example, was a big importer of scrap plastic until 2000, but has become a big exporter as its economy has grown rapidly.China was once the undisputed base for global waste plastic consumption, but it could take a similar turn.After China's ban, waste plastic from developed countries may be further transferred to India, southeast Asia, Africa and other developing countries, and the global plastic recycling system will face a major adjustment.The strategy of China to cope with the change of global plastic circulation systemChina is an important participant and builder of the global plastic recycling system.With a large, mature and complete plastic recycling industry, China plays a key role in the global plastic recycling system.Despite the fact that the export volume is basically zero, China imported 170 million tons of waste plastics from 1987 to 2017, accounting for 72% of the world's total export volume.With the flow of pollutants brought by waste plastic import and export trade, China has to a large extent undertaken the environmental pollution transfer from developed countries. In particular, regions such as qingyuan, guangdong province, have paid a huge ecological environment and population health cost for the disposal of waste plastic from developed countries.At the same time, we need to see that the growth of China's indigenous waste plastic production could become a new challenge for the global plastic recycling system.In recent years, with the rapid development of the food delivery and delivery industry, China has produced more and more plastic waste.However, due to the incomplete garbage classification and recycling system in China, a large number of plastics are discarded.It is worth looking forward to that the recycling rate of waste plastics in China is increasing year by year. In 2018, the recycling value of waste plastics reached 119 billion yuan, which accelerated the localization of waste plastics sources in China to some extent.At the same time, Chinese enterprises are also actively integrating into the global plastic recycling system, accelerating the transfer of industries and technologies to the countries of origin and trade, and making positive contributions to the global plastic recycling in new ways.Waste plastic is an important renewable resource with high recycling value, but it will also bring some environmental problems in the process of recycling and utilization.At present, recycling of plastics has become a global consensus. How to balance its dual attributes of resources and environment has become an important challenge to build a new global plastic recycling system.Under this great change, it is suggested that China should respond in the following five aspects:First, we need to take an active part in the global plastic recycling system.To establish a sound waste plastic products grade and value list, firmly prohibit the import of low-value and low-quality waste plastic.Ban in 2018, the global waste plastics trade pattern changes, long-term relies heavily on imports of recycled plastic enterprise can consider through cooperation with overseas areas, while improve the level of technology and management in some industries and technology transfer, construction and the source of waste plastics and the linkage of overseas recycled plastic plastic consumption market in China production base, forming a global plastic recycling economy system.Second, we need to improve and upgrade the domestic waste plastic recycling system.In order to build a formal recycling system of waste plastics in China and fill the shortage of resources in the plastic industry in China, we should develop a front-end intelligent management system to realize the management mode of "producer processing, buyer return, consumer collection".Vigorously publicize the knowledge of garbage classification, and realize the correct distribution of plastics;Combined with the "Internet + recycling" method, the environmental deposit recycling system with Chinese characteristics was established.Formulate the corresponding system to improve the recovery system, to achieve intensive, systematic recovery mode.Third, the establishment of recycled plastic flow and pollution monitoring system.The recycling and utilization of waste plastic requires the cooperation of front-end collection and back-end processing and recycling enterprises. However, at present, most waste plastic is flowing into informal recycling and recycling enterprises, which easily causes serious environmental impact.In order to promote the intensive and clean development of the recycled plastics industry, it is necessary to improve the enterprise production chain, establish information supervision and flow system, and give priority to the development of formal resource recycling enterprises.Relying on the flow monitoring system, the recycling of waste plastics and the centralized control and reduction of pollutants can be realized.Fourth, to improve the level of science and technology and environmental protection in the plastic industry.To improve the level of science and technology in the whole plastic industry chain, it is suggested to extend the service life of products without recycling value in the process of plastic production and processing, so as to reduce the amount of waste;Promote recycling in the application, and find suitable terminal application ways for related recycled materials and products;Scientific design in the consumption sector, promoting the use of biodegradable materials;To develop chemical recovery technology in waste treatment, recycle and utilize as much as possible in polymer state, and promote recycling and high-value utilization of plastics.Fifth, we need to build a plastic big data platform.The localization of waste plastic recycling has gradually become an important way to maintain the normal operation of Chinese enterprises.However, the flow data of different types of plastics is not easy to be counted and managed.Relevant departments should establish a big data platform for plastics by integrating data from various parties. By means of material flow analysis method, the sources and directions of plastics in society can be quantitatively and dynamically tracked to make clear the quantity, structure and spatial distribution of plastic production and consumption.With the help of the life cycle evaluation method, this paper studies the environmental impact of the whole life cycle phase of plastics, and finds out the plan to optimize the ecological environment risk and benefit of recycled plastics.To construct the waste plastic emission list in China, clarify the ecological and environmental benefits and contributions of waste plastic recycling, promote the green and sustainable development of China's plastic industry, and enhance the international voice of China's plastic industry.