China has made a huge announcement. It is spending the next five years working towards a total ban of single-use plastics.
The ban will move extremely quickly. By the end of 2020 (yes, this year), the production and sale of plastic tableware and cotton swabs will be banned.
Microbeads (tiny pieces of plastic) and plastic straws will also be banned by end of 2020. And plastic bags will be banned in major cities by end of 2020, and across the country by 2022.
By 2025, essentially every other type of single-use plastic will be illegal for production and sale in China. The country will use the time to switch factories over to biodegradable and other alternatives to replace single-use items.
Why is this so huge?
Any country moving to ban single-use plastics is a big win for the environment. But this announcement is about as big as they get. Why?
Because China is currently the biggest producer of waste in the world. And not only does this ban mean that they will soon produce far less plastic trash themselves, their move will also put pressure on other nations. How so?
For years, countries who have been resisting banning plastics have pointed to China as one of the reasons why.
Why should we be reducing our waste when the world's biggest polluter isn't making any changes?, they say.
Now they can't make that argument.
There's another important aspect to this ban. It bans sale and production of single-use plastics. This is significant because China makes a lot of the plastics used around the globe.
Without a supply of Chinese plastic, many nations and international companies will be forced to find another supplier. Yes, some may find that plastic somewhere else for the time being. But others may decide that it is a sign that they need to make more responsible choices, too.
Is the war on plastics over? Far from it.
Even though many countries — including Canada — have banned, or made immediate plans to ban, single-use plastics, our plastic problem will never be fully addressed until the ban is far more global. And even then, the plastic that is already out there needs to be cleaned up.
But there's no question that the Chinese ban is a positive thing. With China on board, will other large polluters like India and the United States follow suit? It will certainly be harder to say no.