Modelling the global impact of China’s ban on plastic waste imports

Date of publication 29 June 2020

Authors Huang, Qiao; Chen, Guangwu; Wang, Yafei; Chen, Shaoqing; Xu, Lixiao; Wang, Rui.

Sources Resources, Conservation and Recycling : 154, 104607.



China has long been the world’s leading plastic waste importer. However, in January 2018 the Chinese Government enacted a new policy to permanently ban the import of most plastic waste into the country. This raises an important question: what will the impact of this policy be both domestically and globally? It is argued that the answer to this question can in part be systematically revealed by employing three methods of analysis. (1) A combined multiregional input-output model with structural path analysis (SPA) to understand how consumption patterns domestically and globally drive China’s plastic waste imports. (2) An ecological network analysis to identify which region is the dominant controller of the global plastic waste trade network. Lastly, (3) a hypothetical extraction method to investigate the value-added change for China and the increased requirement of waste treatment capacity for other economies. The results indicate that the imported plastic waste was mainly driven by China’s domestic consumption of products containing recycled plastic. Given this demand, it is recommended that the Chinese Government undertake various actions to increase local plastic waste recycling to compensate for the loss of recycled plastic material since the import ban took place. China is a dominant controller, along with the US, the European Union and Germany of the global plastic waste trade network. At this stage it is not possible for other large economies to replace the role of China in the short term. China’s waste import ban caused a minor economic loss for China, however, it has resulted in the need for other economies to increase their waste treatment capacity. As well as increasing local plastic waste recycling, it is recommended the Chinese Government consider reopening imports for high quality recycled material and to seek global collaboration, which would not only ease the shortage of recycled plastic material but also buy time for other economies to build new waste treatment plants.

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