Lifting ban on foam plastic brings recycling problem

Updated: 2013-04-09 16:02

By Mao Jing (

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Starting in May, China will no longer ban the production of foam plastic tableware, making the recycling of such products a problem that cannot be ignored, 21 Century Herald reported.

On Feb 16, the National Development and Reform Commission changed the Industrial Restructuring Catalog (2011) and removed disposable foam plastic tableware (DFPT) from the list of banned products.

Annual consumption of the product is currently 15 billion. With a profit of 0.01 yuan for each piece, the manufacturers can expect an annual profit of at least 150 million yuan.

At the same time, recycling is a problem that cannot be ignored after the ban on foam plastic tableware is lifted. The cost of recycling each piece is 0.06 yuan, so 900 million yuan would be required each year. But the question is: Who will pay for it?

Insiders say that if there are no supporting policies, the safety of foam plastic tableware cannot be ensured; regulatory weakness and recycling difficulty are bound to once again intensify the “white pollution.”

On Jan 23, 1999, the former State Economic and Trade Commission issued a "Decree 6", including the products on the list of phase-out products.

Dong Jinshi, who is in charge of the International Food Packaging Association, said although the nation prohibited the production of such products, there are still more than 100 domestic enterprises continuing to produce them in secret, especially in Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Shanghai, Guangdong and Fujian province.

Compared to the foam plastic, the cost of biodegradable tableware is 10 times higher. Driven by this huge interest, manufacturers have long been doing underground production and sales, keeping the “white chain” going for 14 years, Dong said.

“Companies like us all have business licenses, and we pay taxes accordingly. Only we do not directly indicate ‘foam plastic cutlery’ when registering in the local Industrial and Commercial Bureau,” said a staff member at a foam plastic tableware company.

In order to maintain their huge profits, 10 plastic foam manufacturing enterprises in Guangzhou decided to turn to lawyers to try to lift the ban on foam plastic tableware, and the companies pay the lawyers 4.5 million yuan in fees.

These former underground manufacturers can now openly produce the tableware, ushering in a new era of development.

However, China's current garbage collection system is not perfect, and to sort out the foam plastic from the daily garbage would cost a lot of money and manual labor. In addition, foam tableware also faces bulky storage and transportation costs, difficulties in wastewater treatment and serious secondary pollution issues. If the recycling issues are not properly addressed, then "white pollution" will once again become a problem, ultimately affecting public interest.

Many experts suggest learning from Shanghai’s approach: charge manufacturers a 0.03 yuan recycling fee. However, the country's only remaining foam plastic tableware recycling firm, Kunshan Baolv Renewable Resources Co, says it would be difficult to keep going, as total recycling fees would cost about 0.06 yuan per piece, which includes sorting and cleaning labor, transportation and wastewater treatment. But if that cost was borne by the manufacturers themselves, it would cost them 900 million yuan in recycling fees each year. In that case, the companies would not be profitable at all, Dong said.