Perhaps for many people living outside China, the words China and environmental protection do not conjugate. Are a contradiction in terms. Indeed, outside China it is seen as a joke, lip service whilst inside, a source of frustration. The reasons for this are many, and complex, ranging from lack of technology to education and understanding.
All are outside the scope of this article but are covered in a little more depth in the Caixin link.
In the 18 odd years The Bic has been in China he has noticed a huge change in the attitude of Chinese towards the environment. That is not to say that prior to that there was no interest, or awareness. What was lacking was the ability to do much. People were aware of the issues caused by pollution of earth, water and air, but at the time, it was too big a problem.
At that time, China was clawing its way out of a time warp having been locked away behind the bamboo curtain whilst the modern world had moved several decades ahead. For China to stop and begin consideration of the environment was to set the country back. The proverb re omelette and eggs comes to mind.
Or to look at it from another perspective, think of those Dark Satanic Mills of Manchester around the late 17 to early 18 hundreds. (although maybe that was not what Blake had in mind at the time~ )The pollution from the Industrial Revolution, emerging new mass production and factories in UK and Europe took centuries to clean up.
Although there have been fits and starts of environment conciseness over the years, especially around air pollution, perhaps for China that moment when awareness turned to action regarding plastic can be seek back around 2017. That resulted in banning free plastic bags from shops and halting accepting other countries waste plastic.
But just taking the former as a simple example, banning proves to be relatively easy. However without sufficient thought and education enforcement become s a totally different situation. So yes, in theory, and law, thin, non recyclable plastic bags were banned in China. However many retailers and the general public flouted it.
Also, whilst plastic, and other issues, are China wide, development is not necessarily so even. So whilst shoppers, for example in bigger cites could afford a few fen (cents) for a plastic bag, those in developing smaller regions were not so well off. In other words, policies regarding the environment generally that were economically sustainable and affordable, say in Shanghai or Beijing became a drag and economic threat to others.
Perhaps the biggest and most grand of China’s war on plastic came at the start of this year, 2020. This time the plan had a more realistic feel, banning single use plastics in selected cities by end of the year. This has had some effect. Here in Beijing, plastic straws, spoons etc are only available on request, and styrene foam has been removed in many cases.
However, we feel it is just a, tiny, drop in the ocean. Until coordinated polices with effective, enforceable deterrents are applied to industry, the issue will be a long time solving. Witness a recent single’s day, 11/11 purchase. The outside container, plastic, came in cling warp, contents were divided by plastic separators and each one wrapped in 20 separate plastic covers. China’s 2020 policy also promoted options to develop and implement a plastic that could be broken down organically. However, that has also run into problems, not the least of which is the technical ability to do so.
For a deeper look and analysis of the problems besetting China’s push for a plastic free world, please read this article; In Depth: Beijing’s Biodegradable Plastic Push Hit by High Costs, Capacity Crunch courtesy of Caixin
This article is a little different from our usual commentary or latest China business and marketing news. However, we hope it gives you a little more background to China’s fight with pollution. Also, hopefully, as a foreign business contemplating China, food for thought for being part of the solution rather than the problem.
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