The Chinese government has just announced a ban on the import of used plastic bags, according to an article published today in a plastics trade magazine.
This highlights the shaky basis of the globalized recycling industry, as the industry comes under increasing scrutiny by environmental regulators.
China is the world's largest market for used plastic bags. Many "recyclers" in North America and Europe rely on Chinese markets to take the used bags that we collect and recycle them.
Burnaby, Coquitlam, Delta, Maple Ridge, Surrey and Langley District all collect plastic bags in their curbside recycling programs. Now those bags may have to find another recycler or go to the landfill.
So why would the Chinese government ban the import of plastic bags? Environmentalists and human rights groups have been reporting problems for over a decade relating to the export of plastics and other wastes to developing countries for recycling. An international treaty was signed in 1992 to protect poor countries from becoming dumping grounds for rich countries' wastes.
Since then, there has been a move to strengthen the treaty so that rich countries couldn't ship waste to poor countries even for recycling purposes, because it is recognized how hard it is to enforce environmental and social welfare protection in poor countries.
China's plastic bag ban import ban follows an earlier ban on shipments of electronic wastes (computers, TVs, etc.). Investigations by environment and human rights groups were published as videos exposing appalling conditions in the recycling facilities.
Meanwhile, the Chinese government's ban preventing stores from handing out free plastic bags to customers has also had an impact.
CBC reported last week that China's largest manufacturer of plastic bags has laid off 10,000 workers and shut down in anticipation of lost business when the ban takes effect in time for the Beijing Olympics.