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How much pollution can be reduced by using degradable lunch boxes in restaurants

Issuing time:2022-11-03 15:53

China's "most strict plastic restriction order in history" has been implemented for nearly two years. The Opinions on Further Strengthening the Control of Plastic Pollution (hereinafter referred to as the plastic restriction order) issued in January 2020 prohibits or restricts the production and sales of products including disposable plastic shopping bags, tableware and other products, and sets an ambitious exit timeline. For example, some disposable plastic products need to be fully withdrawn from the market in less than a year.

The rapid elimination of a large number of disposable non degradable plastic products has led to the rapid growth of substitute production capacity in a short period of time. Among them, biodegradable plastics are particularly attractive. Weng Yunxuan, a professor of polymer chemistry at Beijing Technology and Business University, predicted that by 2025, the annual capacity of China's two major biodegradable plastics, PBAT and PLA, will increase from about 300000 tons and 100000 tons in 2020 to about 7 million tons and more than 1 million tons, reaching more than two-thirds of the global capacity.


However, a few months ago, in the "Fourteenth Five Year Plan" Action Plan for Plastic Pollution Control issued by the National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, the space involved in biodegradable plastics was significantly reduced, and the policy did not require the promotion of such products. Instead, it emphasized the importance of studying the impact of biodegradable plastics, standardizing the application fields, and explicitly proposed to prevent blind expansion of production capacity.

What made Chinese policy makers change their attitudes towards biodegradable plastics in a short time?

As a sustainable consumer, I often worry about the various plastic packages of the products I buy. In order to make products have better appearance and protection, packaging is everywhere. Even a lemon should be wrapped and delivered to us.

According to the statistics of the Plastics Recycling Committee of China Plastics Association, our country uses about 3 billion plastic bags every day, which means that each of us is responsible for the pollution of 2-3 plastic bags every day. There is no denying that we have come to the point where we rely heavily on plastics. In order to get rid of this dilemma, our country has already started to take action. This year, the country issued a proposal on plastic pollution control, which mentioned that non degradable plastic bags should be prohibited in various places and activities, which is a policy that people expect! A small step in China's plastic reduction, a big step in the world!

Plastic is a major invention in the 20th century and one of the most common chemical products. Plastic can be seen in every aspect of life: express packaging, takeout boxes, supermarket shopping bags, plastic bottles, etc. Plastic can replace materials such as metal, wood or glass, which is convenient to use, convenient to store and transport, promoting the rapid development of express delivery, takeout and other industries. However, it is difficult to degrade plastic bags, which will cause great damage to the environment. The white garbage represented by plastic bags has become the world recognized white garbage.

The development of degradable plastics has been slow in the early stage, mainly because of the high production cost and the weak implementation of policies. However, with China's ban on the import of foreign waste since 2018, the industry trend has changed significantly. In the past, overseas developed countries produced a large amount of plastic wastes, but by exporting to China and other regions, they solved the huge external costs with very small cash costs; China, on the other hand, has borne additional external costs, and the burden is becoming heavier and heavier. In order to solve the serious waste problem, China began to ban the import of foreign garbage, which made the treatment cost of developed countries suddenly increase significantly. Therefore, we can see that European countries have introduced mandatory policies on plastics since 2018, and domestic policies have become increasingly strict. Therefore, we believe that degradable plastics have entered the industry outbreak, and polylactic acid (PLA) and PBAT are the most promising materials.

Biodegradable polymers mostly contain rich hydroxyl, carboxyl and other active groups. It is particularly important to develop targeted multifunctional additives for biodegradable plastics. At the same time, in the field of filling and recycling, high efficiency and low cost should be taken into account.

The future of degradable and replaceable plastics industry chain lies in the implementation of ecological orientation and cross-border integration; Starting from the innovation of Chinese standards, the hard core technology integrating international standards, national standards, group standards and enterprise standards; Put forward new requirements for targeted selection of key indicators, and change the limitations of the standard of biodegradable plastics (based on composting condition test) that are disconnected from the real degradation environment; Specify control indicators from eight aspects: green design, material access, quality assurance, degradation performance, ecological safety, health and safety, input and output, and comprehensive benefits; Relying on the standardization of scientific and technological achievements, standardization leads industrialization and opens up new fields of ecological plastics in China; Recycle, petrochemical material innovation, inorganic material substitution, bio based and biodegradable materials are mutually supported and supplemented by ecological plastics for pollution reduction and carbon reduction; Let people enjoy the ecological safety, health and safety brought by ecological plastics and enjoy ecological well-being.

Why do we need "degradable"?

Let's review why we need "degradable" materials? To allow garbage to wash into the ocean and disappear in the ocean? To enable animals who eat plastic garbage to digest it better? To prevent our garbage from piling up into mountains?

This seems to be an excuse for our unwillingness to classify garbage, recycle resources, and get rid of the mystery of the "disposable life" habit, so that we can more naturally use plastics and disposable products. Again and again, we try to find alternatives in disposable products, which proves that we are lost in the logic dilemma of "use up and discard", and still have not found a solution to escape plastic pollution.

We will sacrifice a lot of costs in order not to practice our own recycling behavior. For example, the production of PLA (polylactic acid, a common biodegradable material) requires a large amount of grain, and the production of 1kg PLA requires 2.65kg corn. This also means the threat to food security and more investment in water, land and other resources. In 2019, the annual use of plastic bags in our country exceeded 4 million tons, which means that we need tens of millions of tons of corn for plastic bags.

We need to understand what these efforts are for? We must also figure out what scenarios can make degradable plastics bring positive benefits to environmental protection. Scenarios such as packaging bags, garbage bags, takeout tableware, diapers, and agricultural films may all be places where degradable plastics can play a role.

However, we still need to be cautious and cautious. Because we will never know whether the plastics produced today will cause troubles to people in the next few centuries.

Choosing products with minimal plastic packaging, reducing the use of plastic products, reusing the plastic products we have, classifying and recycling plastic waste are the most effective, lowest cost and most environmentally friendly wise practices for a responsible consumer.

With the full implementation of the ban and restriction on plastics in China, the domestic biodegradable plastics industry has developed rapidly, but there is still a big gap between China's biodegradable plastics industry and foreign countries. Take PLA as an example. At present, the biggest problem of the domestic PLA industry is that it is unable to be completely self-sufficient, including the intermediate lactide, high-purity pure L-lactic acid and lactic acid bacteria that need to be purchased in large quantities. Taking lactic acid bacteria as an example, 60% of the global production of lactic acid bacteria comes from Purac, a subsidiary of CSM Group in the Netherlands. In China, except Anhui Fengyuan Group has the whole PLA industry chain and Zhejiang Haizheng Group has the PLA industry chain except for lactic acid, other enterprises can only achieve the production link of lactide PLA. The late start of the domestic PLA industry has led to the incomplete domestic PLA industry chain and many key links are under the control of others. China's PLA industry needs more efforts to reach the international advanced level.

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