Biodegradable plastic production in China outpacing ability to break down waste, says Greenpeace
China has begun producing biodegradable plastic at such a rate that it can no longer break down the material at the same pace, according to a new report from Greenpeace.
According to the report, companies in China have ramped up production of biodegradable plastic to a capacity of 4.4 million tons per year. That capacity is expected to reach five million tons in the e-commerce sector alone by 2025, when a nationwide ban on non-biodegradable plastics is set to come into effect.
“Switching from one type of plastic to another cannot solve the plastics pollution crisis that we’re facing,” said Dr Molly Zhongnan Jia, a Greenpeace East Asia plastics researcher. “We need to take a cautious look at the effect and potential risks of mainstreaming these materials, and make sure we invest in solutions that actually reduce plastic waste.”
Non-biodegradable plastics take decades to decompose and release microplastics, which contaminates soil, water and the food chain.
By contrast, current forms of biodegradable plastic take up to six months to be broken down, but they require specific industrial treatment at high temperatures and humidity. If the material is left in landfill, the process takes much longer and still releases carbon into the atmosphere.
Most households do not have the ability to properly dispose of biodegradable plastics as they are often not suitable for household recycling and composting.
This results in many forms of biodegradable plastic being thrown away after a single-use, compounding the problem of plastic pollution.
“Reusable packaging systems and a reduction in overall plastic use are much more promising strategies to keep plastic out of landfills and the environment,” said Dr Jia.