Citizens taking action ~ Vancouver, Lower Mainland, and beyond.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Plastic bag recycling about to get much harder

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.


Erika Rathje said...

If they can do it, why can't we?

I tossed plastic bags in the blue bin a couple of times but I didn't realise my city actually collects them. I've been collecting them in my kitchen to return to a store. I just assumed they were recycled or reused locally... Do we not have programs to do that? This really troubles me.

Anonymous said...

There are some very durable and interesting products that could be made locally by hot pressing layers of plastic bags into thicker sheets. This is a relatively low-tech process that only requires clean, dry plastic bags. The process can be done by hand, or industrially. The end product ranges from a thicker, more durable flexible plastic to a board or binder-cover like products Similarly, tetrapaks are heated and pressed into something resembling construction-grade, large-flake chipboard available to builders in Europe, Asia, and South America, but not here in North America.

Too bad someone here on the west coast doesn't start - lots of notebooks, book bindings, boxes and other stuff could be made from pre-recycle/semi reused plastic and tetrapak items!

Right now, I could only find an example of the plastic-board at, and the tetraboard at that site's other page and at addresses accessed through Since we're on the West Coast with that reputation for innovation, I dare some industrial designer or artist out here to start marketing some cool, pre-recycled (which I take to be the more energy-intense de-manufacture and re-manufacture in an "as raw" input form) remade items to create thought about kick-starting the stale soft-plastic recycling market.

chaerunislam said...

how much they import plastics to other country????????

avani said...

This is a great article. Exporting our garbage to third world countries is always troubling. Store buy recycled plastic but do they actually tell us where it comes from - just because it is cheap. We import jute which is a natural fibre and much more sustainable. But we still have recycled plastics being given out by all the top grocery stores and companies.