Research ArticleENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES

The Chinese import ban and its impact on global plastic waste trade

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Science Advances  20 Jun 2018:
Vol. 4, no. 6, eaat0131
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aat0131
  • Fig. 1 Trade of plastic waste in mass and trade value (UN Comtrade data).

    (A) Advances in Municipal Recovery Facility (MRF) technology resulting in expansion of commingled recycling, especially single-stream recycling in the United States (1995–2005) (see the Supplementary Materials). (B) Surge in globalization, supported by the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund (2931). (C) Implementation of temporary Chinese import restrictions (Green Fence) (2013). (D) Implementation of the new Chinese policy banning the import of nonindustrial plastic waste (2017).

  • Fig. 2 Sources of plastic waste imports into China in 2016 and cumulative plastic waste export tonnage (in million MT) in 1988–2016.

    Countries with no reported exported plastic waste values are white. Cumulative exports represent by country exports of PE, PS, PVC, and other plastic [UN Comtrade data; (912)]. Quantities for sources of Chinese imports include PE, PS, PVC, PP, and PET (13).

  • Fig. 3 Estimated mass of global displaced plastic waste due to the new Chinese import ban based on cumulative imports of PE, PS, PVC, and other plastics into China [UN Comtrade data; (912)].

    The BAU (business as usual) projection of Chinese imports was created by using a linear regression of the last 10 years of imports. The Chinese ban on importation of plastic waste is based on a 100% implementation of the regulation (see the Supplementary Materials for details).

  • Table 1 Cumulative plastic waste export and import by country (1988–2016) (912).

    MMT, million MT. SAR, Special Adminitrative Region.

    Exporters (top 10)
    Rank*ReporterEconomic classificationRegion*Cumulative trade value
    (billion USD)
    Cumulative net weight
    (MMT)§
    % of global exports
    1||China, Hong Kong SARHICEAP16.756.126.1
    2United StatesHICNA (OECD)12.326.712.4
    3JapanHICEAP (OECD)9.6422.210.3
    4GermanyHICECA (OECD)6.9517.68.22
    5MexicoUMILAC (OECD)4.5510.54.90
    6UKHICECA (OECD)3.329.264.31
    7NetherlandsHICECA (OECD)3.197.713.59
    8FranceHICECA (OECD)3.497.553.52
    9BelgiumHICECA (OECD)2.556.412.99
    10CanadaHICNA (OECD)1.933.891.81
    Total64.716878
    Importers (top 10)
    RankCountryEconomic classification Region*Cumulative trade value
    (billion USD)
    Cumulative net weight
    (MMT)§
    % of global imports
    1ChinaUMIEAP57.610645.1
    2China, Hong Kong SARHICEAP23.364.527.3
    3United StatesHICNA (OECD)5.188.493.60
    4NetherlandsHICECA (OECD)2.406.432.72
    5GermanyHICECA (OECD)2.305.362.27
    6BelgiumHICECA (OECD)1.814.151.76
    7CanadaHICNA (OECD)1.763.831.62
    8ItalyHICECA (OECD)1.843.321.41
    9IndiaLMISA1.203.101.31
    10Other Asia, nes#UnspecifiedUnspecified0.972.381.01
    Total98.320888

    *EAP, East Asia and Pacific; ECA, Europe and Central Asia; NA, North America; LAC, Latin American and the Caribbean; SA, South Asia; OECD, Organization for Economic Cooperation.

    †HIC, high-income country; UMI, upper middle income; LMI, lower middle income; LI, low income; based on 2015 gross national income.

    ‡Cumulative trade value is the sum of reported values based on annual reports by each country for each trade flow from 1988 to 2016 (UN Comtrade Data).

    §Cumulative net weight is the sum of reported values based on annual reports by each country for each trade flow of four categories: waste PE, waste PVC, waste PS, and waste other plastics from 1988 to 2016 (UN Comtrade Data).

    ||If considered collectively, then EU-28 countries would rank first on the list of cumulative exports, accounting for 31% of exports.

    ¶If considered collectively, then the EU-28 would rank third on the list of cumulative imports, accounting for 8.0% of imports

    #Other Asia, not elsewhere specified (nes) is 1 of 16 UN areas nes. These areas are used (i) for low value trade or (ii) if the partner designation was unknown to the country or if an error was made in the partner assignment. The reporting country does not send details of the trading partner in these cases, sometimes to protect company information (28).

    Supplementary Materials

    • Supplementary material for this article is available at http://advances.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/4/6/eaat0131/DC1

      Supplementary Text

      fig. S1. Linear fit of all historical cumulative Chinese imports of plastic waste (R2 = 0.89) (912).

      fig. S2. Polynomial fit for historical cumulative Chinese imports of plastic waste (R2 = 1.0) (912).

      fig. S3. Linear fit for the last 10 years of cumulative Chinese imports of plastic waste (R2 = 1.0) (912).

      fig. S4. Best-fit regression analysis for future plastic waste imports (912).

      fig. S5. Top five importers to China in 2016 and top five export destinations for the top five historical exporters (13, 2426).

      fig. S6. Comparison of cumulative import and export quantities of plastic waste (MT) from 1988 to 2016 for each plastic waste polymer.

      fig. S7. Annual Chinese imports of each plastic waste polymer from 1992 to 2016.

      fig. S8. Destination countries of U.S. exports of plastic waste in 2016 and cumulative plastic waste export tonnage (in million MT) in 1988–2016.

      fig. S9. Destination countries of Japanese exports of plastic waste in 2016 and cumulative plastic waste export tonnage (in million MT) in 1988–2016.

      fig. S10. Destination countries of German exports of plastic waste in 2016 and cumulative plastic waste export tonnage (in million MT) in 1988–2016.

      fig. S11. Destination countries of Mexican exports of plastic waste in 2016 and cumulative plastic waste export tonnage (in million MT) in 1988–2016.

      fig. S12. Destination countries of UK exports of plastic waste in 2016 and cumulative plastic waste export tonnage (in million MT) in 1988–2016.

      table S1. Ranking of World Bank economic groups based on cumulative exports and imports plastic waste (in MT) from 1988 to 2016 (912).

      table S2. Ranking of World Bank regional groups based on cumulative exports and imports of plastic waste (MT) from 1988 to 2016 (912).

      table S3. Ranking of countries based on cumulative exports and imports of each plastic waste polymer classification from 1988 to 2016 (912).

      table S4. Estimated percentage of imported plastic waste to be managed in China from 2010 to 2016 (4, 912, 14).

      table S5. Projected displaced plastic waste based on 100, 75, and 50% restriction scenarios for Chinese imports of plastic waste after the implementation of the new Chinese import ban policy.

      table S6. Ranking of top countries that exported plastic waste to China in 2016 (MT) (13).

      database S1. Trade Data Compilation Framework (Excel file).

    • Supplementary Materials

      This PDF file includes:

      • Supplementary Text
      • fig. S1. Linear fit of all historical cumulative Chinese imports of plastic waste
      (R2 = 0.89) (9–12).
    • fig. S2. Polynomial fit for historical cumulative Chinese imports of plastic waste (R2 = 1.0) (9–12).
    • fig. S3. Linear fit for the last 10 years of cumulative Chinese imports of plastic waste (R2 = 1.0) (9–12).
    • fig. S4. Best-fit regression analysis for future plastic waste imports (9–12).
    • fig. S5. Top five importers to China in 2016 and top five export destinations for the top five historical exporters (13, 24–26).
    • fig. S6. Comparison of cumulative import and export quantities of plastic waste (MT) from 1988 to 2016 for each plastic waste polymer.
    • fig. S7. Annual Chinese imports of each plastic waste polymer from 1992 to 2016.
    • fig. S8. Destination countries of U.S. exports of plastic waste in 2016 and cumulative plastic waste export tonnage (in million MT) in 1988–2016.
    • fig. S9. Destination countries of Japanese exports of plastic waste in 2016 and cumulative plastic waste export tonnage (in million MT) in 1988–2016.
    • fig. S10. Destination countries of German exports of plastic waste in 2016 and cumulative plastic waste export tonnage (in million MT) in 1988–2016.
    • fig. S11. Destination countries of Mexican exports of plastic waste in 2016 and cumulative plastic waste export tonnage (in million MT) in 1988–2016.
    • fig. S12. Destination countries of UK exports of plastic waste in 2016 and cumulative plastic waste export tonnage (in million MT) in 1988–2016.
    • table S1. Ranking of World Bank economic groups based on cumulative exports and imports plastic waste (in MT) from 1988 to 2016 (9–12).
    • table S2. Ranking of World Bank regional groups based on cumulative exports and imports of plastic waste (MT) from 1988 to 2016 (9–12).
    • table S3. Ranking of countries based on cumulative exports and imports of each plastic waste polymer classification from 1988 to 2016 (9–12).
    • table S4. Estimated percentage of imported plastic waste to be managed in China from 2010 to 2016 (4, 9–12, 14).
    • table S5. Projected displaced plastic waste based on 100, 75, and 50% restriction scenarios for Chinese imports of plastic waste after the implementation of the new Chinese import ban policy.
    • table S6. Ranking of top countries that exported plastic waste to China in 2016 (MT) (13).
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      Other Supplementary Material for this manuscript includes the following:

      • database S1. Trade Data Compilation Framework (Excel file).

      Files in this Data Supplement:

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