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Shipping Lines No Longer Accepting Plastic Waste

Major shipping lines announced they would be no longer shipping scrap plastic from developed countries to Southeast Asia and China. Until 1992, China used to be #1 destination for plastic imports, which would be recycled and used for manufacturing. When the country’s economy expanded, its scrap output also increased. Currently China has more than enough waste plastic for recycling and no longer needs imported waste.

Limiting Imports of Scrap Plastic

In 2017, China announced a policy called Operation National Sword, effectively limiting the import of plastic waste. Developed nations rerouted their waste exports to Indonesia, Malaysia, and other nations in South East Asia, which in 2019 announced they would limit imports or no longer accept deliveries. Due to scrap plastic bans, US exports have plummeted by over 70 percent.

Also as a result of import bans, carriers have become increasingly weary of shipping plastic waste. As the country of destination may refuse the delivery, carriers are faced with the prospect of either shipping it back or dumping the cargo. As there is an increased risk for shipping lines, it makes no economic sense to ship this particular type of cargo. The fact is that major shipping lines such as Hapag-Lloyd, MSC, and Maersk stopped shipping waste exports to China in 2020. Presently just a handful of carriers accept shipments while major waste importers such as Thailand, Vietnam, Canada, and Turkey have imposed import restrictions.

New Policies and Regulations on Plastic Waste

As many countries have imposed bans or restrictions, developed nations will need to scale up plastic recycling. The European Union has already implemented extended producer responsibility policies under which manufacturers of packaging and plastic products should pay for their disposal or recycling. In addition, the EU has established regulations limiting the volume of packaging that businesses are allowed to use. Companies are now required to use recycled plastics while manufacturers have announced plans to produce 3.4 megatons by 2030. The new standards also set criteria and technical rules for various products, including electrical and electronic equipment, automotive products, construction, and plastic packaging.

In comparison, the US is lagging behind on both scaling up recycling and regulating plastic waste. Local and state governments have begun passing laws but as of now, in only a handful of jurisdictions.

Currently, plastic is on the list of UN’s hazardous goods, but the good news is that according to estimates, about 70 percent of plastic production will be recycled and reused by 2050. Experts acknowledge that plastic pollution is a problem of global magnitude, contaminating marine, freshwater, and terrestrial ecosystems. Microplastics are very small particles that circulate in the carbon, water, and dust cycle, harming wildlife species and contaminating air, water, and food. To help protect the environment, there needs to be incentives for recycling, recycled content standards as well as a cap on virgin plastic production. Each country needs a strategy and policies to achieve reduction targets.