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Current influence of China’s ban on plastic waste imports

Abstract and Figures

The current global production of plastics is over 300 million tons, 20% of which is produced in China. It has been estimated that about 90% of the discarded plastics are not recycled. China was the world’s leading importer of waste plastics, while since January 1, 2018, China’s import ban on waste plastics has been put into force, which has had a far-reaching effect on global plastic production and solid waste management. Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia have replaced China as the leading importer of plastic wastes. As the main exporter of waste plastics, EU has released strategy and initiative about plastics to restrict the use of micro plastics and single-use plastics. Meanwhile main European counties like UK, German and France have also taken own active measures to realize the control of packaging waste and non-recycled plastic and the recycling of plastic wastes in several years. As For the US, some areas such as Seattle and San Francisco have positively responded to the global trend of plastic ban. However, the controversy over “plastic restriction” in the whole state obstructed the promulgation and implementation of the national plastic ban. On the whole, major companies and more than 60 countries all over the world have introduced levies or bans to combat single-use plastic wastes. The Chinese government began to rectify the domestic waste plastics market and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology of China has clarified the threshold of waste plastic treatment capacity for key enterprises. In addition to landfill, direct recovery and waste to energy processes are the main disposal methods of waste plastics. Thermoplastics like PE, PP and PET that are sorted out from the waste stream by citizens can be directly recycled to the primary material. The mixed waste plastics can be used as fuel in waste to energy plants, or as feedstock to pyrolysis plants that transform them to high value-added oil or chemical materials, which are more promising disposal methods of waste plastics.
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Vol.:(0123456789)
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Waste Disposal & Sustainable Energy (2019) 1:67–78
https://doi.org/10.1007/s42768-019-00005-z
REVIEW
Current inuence ofChinas ban onplastic waste imports
WanliWang1· NickolasJ.Themelis2· KaiSun1· AthanasiosC.Bourtsalas2· QunxingHuang1 · YunheZhang1·
ZhaohuiWu1
Received: 12 March 2019 / Revised: 25 March 2019 / Accepted: 27 March 2019 / Published online: 23 April 2019
© Zhejiang University Press 2019
Abstract
The current global production of plastics is over 300 million tons, 20% of which is produced in China. It has been estimated
that about 90% of the discarded plastics are not recycled. China was the world’s leading importer of waste plastics, while since
January 1, 2018, China’s import ban on waste plastics has been put into force, which has had a far-reaching effect on global
plastic production and solid waste management. Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia have replaced China as the leading
importer of plastic wastes. As the main exporter of waste plastics, EU has released strategy and initiative about plastics to
restrict the use of micro plastics and single-use plastics. Meanwhile main European counties like UK, German and France
have also taken own active measures to realize the control of packaging waste and non-recycled plastic and the recycling of
plastic wastes in several years. As For the US, some areas such as Seattle and San Francisco have positively responded to the
global trend of plastic ban. However, the controversy over “plastic restriction” in the whole state obstructed the promulgation
and implementation of the national plastic ban. On the whole, major companies and more than 60 countries all over the world
have introduced levies or bans to combat single-use plastic wastes. The Chinese government began to rectify the domestic
waste plastics market and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology of China has clarified the threshold of waste
plastic treatment capacity for key enterprises. In addition to landfill, direct recovery and waste to energy processes are the
main disposal methods of waste plastics. Thermoplastics like PE, PP and PET that are sorted out from the waste stream by
citizens can be directly recycled to the primary material. The mixed waste plastics can be used as fuel in waste to energy
plants, or as feedstock to pyrolysis plants that transform them to high value-added oil or chemical materials, which are more
promising disposal methods of waste plastics.
Keywords Waste plastics· China· Ban· Import· Pyrolysis
Introduction
Plastics are polymer compounds derived from the polym-
erization of small molecular organic compounds such as
ethylene, styrene, etc. and can be classified broadly into
thermoplastic and thermosetting plastics. Since the initial
invention of plastics, various kinds of plastic products have
become excellent substitutes for traditional materials such as
paper, wood, metal and ceramics in various manufacturing
industries because of their advantages of light weight, high
strength, good insulation, high transparency, excellent cor-
rosion resistance, low cost and ease of fabrication [1]. The
current global production is estimated at about 300 million
tons and it is expected to reach 500 million tons by 2050,
most of which will be single-use products [2].
The various advantages of plastics have led to expansive
growth in their production and consumption and this has also
resulted in serious problems such as environmental pollu-
tion and waste disposal. Plastic debris is the major pollutant
listed by the EU (61%) and the USEPA (78%) [3].
However, despite much effort in developing countries,
less than 10% of the generated plastic wastes are being recy-
cled to the original materials [4]. As a result, about 75% of
the wastes floating in the marine environment are plastics
and over two-thirds of which are not biodegradable [5, 6].
A study by JR Jambeck reported that over 5 million tons of
* Qunxing Huang
hqx@zju.edu.cn
1 State Key Laboratory Clean Energy Utilization,
Zhejiang University, Hangzhou310027, Zhejiang,
People’sRepublicofChina
2 Columbia University, Earth Engineering Center, NewYork,
NY10027, USA
68 Waste Disposal & Sustainable Energy (2019) 1:67–78
1 3
plastic wastes were discarded into the oceans in 2010 [7].
The plastic debris in aquatic habitats has caused immeasur-
able potential harm to marine ecosystems and also to the
health of terrestrial organisms [8].
Because of the mounting problems due to plastic pollu-
tion, governments in many countries have tightened restric-
tions on plastic products, in particular single-use ones. China
is an active participant and promoter of plastic wastes con-
trol. In April 2017, the Chinese government approved a ban
on imported “recyclable” solid wastes. The ban list included
24 kinds of solid wastes, among which non-industrial plas-
tic wastes is the most prominent. The Chinese ban became
effective at the beginning of 2018 and has had a far-reach-
ing effect on global plastic production and on solid waste
management.
This study examines the global response to China’s ban
on plastic waste imports, the current situation on plastic
waste generation and disposition in China and future pros-
pects for sustainable resource recovery from non-recyclable
plastic wastes.
Plastic wastes intheworld
Key facts: plastics andplastic wastes
Plastic production inthewhole world, Europe andtheUS
Plastics are versatile materials which could be widely used
in the fields of industrial production and our daily lives.
Current production of plastics consumes 6% of the global
oil production and, if the current trend continues, it will
increase to 20% by 2050 [9]. As shown in Fig.1a, the
annual production of plastics in the world reached 335
million tons by 2016, with an annual growth rate of about
4% [10]. China is the largest producer of plastic prod-
ucts, accounting to about 29% of worldwide production,
followed by North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA)
(19%) and Europe (18%). Asia accounts for nearly half of
the world’s plastic production.
Fig. 1 Global plastic production
(a) by year and (b) by area, in
2016 Data source: Eurostat
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Types anduse ofplastics
Take Europe for example. The dominant plastic products
are polypropylene (PP), low density polyethylene (LDPE)
and high-density polyethylene (HDPE); these three com-
pounds amount to 49.1% of all plastics in Europe (Fig.2
[11]).
1. Polypropylene (PP)
Polypropylene is a semi-crystalline thermoplastic plastic. It
is widely used because of its high impact resistance, strong
mechanical properties and resistance to a variety of organic
solvents, acids and alkalis. The main applications of PP
include the production of long and short polypropylene fib-
ers, woven bags, packaging bags, injection molded products
which are used for electrical, telecommunications, lighting,
lighting equipment and TV sets of flame retardant parts. PP
contributes about 24% in plastic wastes category which are
the largest amount of plastics found in MSW [12]. The high
demand of PP in daily life causes the amount of PP wastes
to increase each year.
2. Low-density polyethylene (LDPE)
Low-density polyethylene (LDPE), also known as high-
pressure polyethylene, is suitable for various molding
processes. Unlike HDPE, LDPE has more branching that
results in weaker intermolecular force, lower tensile strength
and lower hardness. The main LDPE products include thin
film products, such as agricultural film, ground cover film,
agricultural membrane, vegetable shed film, packaging film
such as candy, vegetables, frozen food and other packaging,
liquid packaging with blow molding film (milk, soy sauce,
juice, soy milk); Heavy packaging bags, shrinkage packag-
ing films, elastic films, lined films; building films, general
industrial packaging films and food bags, etc.
3. High-density polyethylene (HDPE)
High-density polyethylene (HDPE), also known as low-
pressure polyethylene, is a translucent film with high
crystallinity and a certain degree of non-polarity. It is an
opaque white material with specific density lower than water
(0.941– 0.960). It is soft but slightly harder than LDPE and
slightly stretchable. Due to its high-strength properties,
HDPE is widely used in manufacturing of milk bottles,
detergent bottles, oil containers, toys and more [13]. In addi-
tion, HDPE is also used to produce packaging film, ropes,
woven mesh, fishing nets, water pipes, injection molding of
lower grade daily necessities and housings, non-bearing load
components, rubber boxes, turnover boxes, extrusion blow
molding containers, hollow products, etc.
4. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
PVC is formed by the polymerization of the monomer
(H2C=CHCl) and, therefore, consists of about 56% chlo-
rine and 44% carbon plus hydrogen [14]. Some minor com-
pounds, such as plasticizer and anti-aging agent are added
in the manufacturing process to enhance the heat resistance,
toughness and ductility of PVC; they may be potentially
toxic so PVC is generally not used to store food and medi-
cine. The compatibility of PVC with other additives makes
it a versatile plastic. Regular PVC products include wire and
cable insulation, window frames, boots, food foil, medical
devices, blood bags, automotive interiors, packaging, credit
cards, synthetic leather, etc.
5. Polyurethane (PUR)
Polyurethane is the most common plastic in the thermoset-
ting family of plastics which accounts for only a small frac-
tion of the plastic waste stream. Polyurethane (PUR) is a pol-
ymer with a repeating structural unit of the carbamate chain
made from isocyanates and polyols. The density of PUR
soft foam ranges from 0.015 to 0.15g/cm. PUR products
are divided into foaming products and non-foaming prod-
ucts. The foaming products include soft, hard, semi-rigid
PUR foam, while non-foaming products include coatings,
Fig. 2 Main types of plastics
demanded by Europe in 2016
[11]
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adhesives, synthetic leather, elastomers and elastic fibers.
Foam is the most widely used PUR product.
6. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)
Polyethylene terephthalate is formed by the polymerization
of the monomer (C10H8O4)n and, therefore, it consists of
about 33% oxygen with the balance carbon and hydrogen.
PET plastics have good transparency, excellent dimensional
stability and electrical insulation. Containers made of PET
have high strength, good transparency, are non-toxic and
easy to fabricate; other applications of PET include electri-
cal insulation, printing sheets, magnetic tapes, X-ray and
other photographic films [15].
7. Polystyrene (PS)
Polystyrene is made by polymerization of the monomer
(C8H8)n. As other plastics it can be colored by means of
additives. It is heat resilient and it offers strength and very
low density which make this polymer suitable for use in
many applications, such as food packaging, electronics, con-
struction, medical, appliances and toys. The wide range of
applications results in a large volume fraction of PS in the
MSW stream [13].
The distribution of use of plastic products in various
industries is shown in Fig.3.
Waste plastics production
The global consumption of plastics in 2016, by region, is
shown in Fig.4. The per capita consumption of plastics in
developed countries is much higher than in other regions.
Plastic consumption in NAFTA has reached 139kg/person,
Fig. 3 Main market demand for
plastic products in 2016 [11]
Fig. 4 Per capita consumption
of plastics (in kg/person) [16]
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which is the highest in the world. The per capita consump-
tion in Asia is lower than the world average.
Figure5 shows that the accumulation of plastic waste has
reached 5.8 billion tons by 2015. And if the current trend
continues, it will exceed an astonishing 25 billion tons by
2050, with around 50% still undisposed [17].
Table1 lists the distribution of life-span of four of the
most common plastics: PE, PP, PS and PVC. Around 67% of
the PE products have a life-span of less than 2years. Moreo-
ver, more than half of the PP and PVC products have a life
span of less than 5years. Polyolefins (PE and PP) are mainly
used to produce packaging materials, such as plastic bags,
milk bottles, packaging films, sweet and snack wrappers,
etc. while the life-span of plastic products used for packag-
ing usually does not exceed one month, which has led to the
rapid accumulation of PE and PP-based plastic wastes [18].
The weight ratios of common compounds (PE, PP, PS
etc.) in the waste stream, as estimated by four separate
studies are shown in Table2. These numbers indicate that
plastic products made from PE, PP and PS have a much
shorter life-span.
Global response toChina’s ban onplastic waste
imports
As noted earlier, China’s ban on non-industrial plastic
wastes began on January 1, 2018. Prior to this ban, China
(45%) and other developing countries in East Asia were
the main destinations of the estimated 70% of plastic
wastes exported in 2016 by higher-income countries [23].
China’s ban on plastic wastes has resulted in higher
consumption of virgin plastic. Morgan Stanley has pre-
dicted that China’s ban would change by about 2% the
polyethylene supply in the world, from recycled plastics
to virgin plastic [24].
Prior to the Chinese ban, Europe and Central Asia were
the main exporters of plastic wastes (32%), followed by
North America (14%) [23]. The responses of the main
exporters, active followers and participants are summa-
rized in the following section.
Fig. 5 Cumulative plastic
waste generation and disposal
(1950–2015) and projection of
historical trends to 2050 [17]
Table 1 Distribution of life-span of four types of plastics
Type 1–2years (%) 3–5years (%) 6–9years (%) More than
10years (%)
PE 67 20 10 3
PP 38 20 34 8
PS 40 25 35 0
PVC 35 15 20 30
Average 45 20 25 10
Table 2 Weight ratios of typical
plastic species in plastic wastes
in some regions
Weight ratios Country or region References
LDPE:HDPE:PP:PS:PVC = 27%:21%:18%:16%:7% The U.S. and Canada (1992) [19]
PE:PP:PS = 68%:6%:16% Portugal (1999) [20]
PE:PS:PP:PET:PVC = 42.2%:24.1%:17.6%:8.9%:5.1% Sapporo, Japan (2003) [21]
PP:HDPE:LDPE:PS:PET = 30.4%:26.5%:22.8%:18.0%:2.3% Czech Republic (2004) [22]
72 Waste Disposal & Sustainable Energy (2019) 1:67–78
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Response ofEurope
The European Commission has indicated that by 2030, all
plastic packaging will be recyclable on the EU market and
the intentional use of micro plastics will be restricted [25].
The effort of European Commission in this new year started
with the publication of European Strategy for Plastics in
a Circular Economy (COM/2018/28 final), on January 16,
2018, which listed the future EU measures for implementing
this strategy and its recommendations to the member states
and the industry. The measures contain 39 actions divided
in four aspects:
1. Improving the economics and quality of plastics recy-
cling;
2. Curbing plastic waste and littering;
3. Driving investment and innovation towards circular
economy solutions;
4. Harnessing global action.
This first-ever European Plastics Strategy highlights the
gaps between the current legal and policy framework about
marine plastic wastes and starts to change the ways in which
plastic products are designed, produced, used and recycled
in Europe. On May 28, 2018, E.C. released the Proposal for
a Direction of the European Parliament and of the Council
on the reduction of the impact of certain plastic products on
the environment (COM/2018/340 final2018/0172 (COD)).
This initiative identified gaps between the existing actions
and legislation and reinforced the EU systemic approach to
plastic waste problem. On October 24, 2018, the European
Parliament adopted a plan which banned single-use plastics
like plates, cutlery, straws and cotton swabs in participating
countries by 2021.
In the UK, China’s ban on waste plastics has forced the
UK to shift its waste exports to other Asian and European
countries. Malaysia has become a major importer of waste
plastics from the UK, with a total import volume of 105,000
tons in 2018, which was 42,000 tons (68%) higher than in
2017. Turkey, Poland, Indonesia and the Netherlands fol-
lowed closely, with imports of plastic wastes increasing by
60,000 tons in 2018 [26]. Also, in response to the global
trend of plastic limitation, the Prime Minister Theresa May
announced a plan to ban the sale of plastic straws, drink stir-
rers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds by April 2017.
In Germany, the German Federation of Waste, Water and
Raw Material Management stated that the total export of
plastic wastes from Germany to China has dropped from
346,000 tons in 2017 to only 16,000 tons in 2018. A new
German law focuses on reducing packaging waste and was
approved by the upper house of the German parliament on
May 12, 2017. This law was enforced as of January 2019
and aims to recycle 63% (from 36% in the past) of the plastic
packaging materials and reach a target of 70% reusable bev-
erage packaging.
France is planning to introduce a penalty system for non-
recycled plastic and use only recycled plastic for packaging
by 2025.
Response oftheUSA
Some regions in the US have also adopted a series of restric-
tions on plastic wastes. On July 1, 2018, Seattle became the
first US city to ban plastic utensils and straws in this city’s
5000 restaurants. San Francisco also voted to ban plastic
straws and containers as of July 1, 2019. The U.S. Plas-
tics Resin Producers has committed to recycle or recover
100% of the plastic packaging by 2040. Some states or cities
are also strengthening the restrictions on single-use plastic
products, while in some other regions, the controversy over
“plastic restriction” is continuing (Fig.6).
According to statistics from the US Census Bureau and
international trade commission, the exports of plastic wastes
from the US to China dropped sharply from about 900 mil-
lion between January and October in 2017 to about 120 mil-
lion tons in the same period in 2018. Malaysia has replaced
China as the leading importer of plastic wastes from the US,
with imports of plastic waste exceeding 192,000 tons in the
first 10months of 2018. In addition, Thailand’s imports of
waste plastics from the US also increased significantly [26].
China’s imports of virgin PE have increased by 19%, and
the plastics industry in the US has invested $185 billion
to build new capacity as the response to this development
opportunity [24].
Response ofother countries andorganizations
On June 5, 2018, India vowed to ban single-use plastics
by 2022. In April 2018, Nasarawa State announced that
it is collaborating with the Federal Ministry of Environ-
ment to establish a plastic recycling plant in the Karu
in order to deal with the plastic wastes in major urban
centers in the state.
When the amount of plastic wastes imported increased
sharply after the Chinese ban, Thailand announced plans
to ban the import of plastic wastes from Western coun-
tries by 2021.
Vietnam has suspended imports of waste plastics after
June 25, 2018 and the restriction has been extended until
further notice.
Japan is subsidizing the production of bioplastics to
replace petroleum-based plastic products and has made
a budgetary provision of ¥5 billion for the researches
about the disposal of used bioplastic products.
Governments in more than 60 countries, e.g. Morocco,
Rwanda, Chile, Botswana and Peru have introduced lev-
73Waste Disposal & Sustainable Energy (2019) 1:67–78
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ies and bans to combat single-use plastic waste. However,
inadequate enforcement has made these bans ineffective.
Several major companies, such as Amcor, Ecover, Evian,
L’Oréal, Mars, M&S, PepsiCo, The Coca-Cola Company,
Unilever, Walmart and Werner & Mertz, which in total
produce 6 million tons of plastic packaging per year, are
mounting efforts to replace the current plastic packaging
with 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packag-
ing by 2025 or earlier [28]. Also, Aramark and Starbucks
have committed to reduce or abolish the use of single use
plastics by 2020 and 2022, respectively.
Global trade inplastic wastes aftertheChinese ban
As shown in Fig.7, after China’s ban, the import of US
plastic wastes to China in 2018 was only one tenth of that
in 2017. Since 2016, the importation of plastic wastes has
increased by over 100% in India, Thailand, Vietnam and
Malaysia. However, other Asian countries, such as Indonesia
and Vietnam have controlled effectively the imports of waste
plastics.
Plastic wastes inChina
Plastic production inChina
Through decades of rapid development, the plastics indus-
try of China has become a major world player in the world.
Production and sale of plastic products accounted for about
20% of the global output value [30].
According to the 20182023 research report on market
prospects and investment opportunities of China’s plastic
products industry from the China Merchants Industrial
Research Institute, the cumulative production of plastics in
China was 77 million tons in 2018, and the annual growth
rate was around 3.1%. The principal uses and estimated ton-
nages of plastics in China are summarized in Table3 [31].
Fig. 6 The geography of plastic bag bans in the US (2018) [27]
74 Waste Disposal & Sustainable Energy (2019) 1:67–78
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Policy fortreating plastic wastes
The “Industry standard” of the Ministry of Industry and
Information Technology (MIIT) defines the threshold
of waste plastic treatment capacity of three key types of
enterprises.
According to the requirements, (1) the annual waste
plastic disposal capacity of new enterprises engaged in
regenerated PET bottle flakes producing must be over
30,000 tons and that of established enterprises should
be over 20,000 tons; (2) the annual disposal capacity of
waste plastics for new enterprises engaged in waste plastic
crushing, cleaning and sorting must be over 30,000 tons
and for established enterprises over 20,000 tons; (3) the
annual waste plastic treatment capacity of new enterprises
engaged in plastic recycling and granulation must be over
5,000 tons and for existing enterprises over 3000 tons [32].
Fig. 7 Exports of “other” plas-
tics (e-plastics, mixed plastics,
etc.) from the U.S. to other
countries in periods of Jan–Sep
2017 and Jan–Sep 2018 [29]
Table 3 Main uses of plastics in China [31]
Industry Plastics Main types Plastic consumption in 2016
Building materials Doors and windows PVC, PE 2.6 million tons
Cars Baffle panel PP More than 400 thousand tons
Textile Clothes PET, PP 10 million tons
Agriculture Mulch PE 3 million tons
Industrial packaging Plastic woven bag, wrapped film PP, PE 3 million tons of PP, 1.5 million tons of PE
Daily life of residents Shopping bags PE 1 million tons
Bottles PET, PE 5 million tons of PET, 0.5 million tons of PE
Washing bottles PE, PP 1 million tons of PE, 0.5 million tons of PP
Composite packaging PET, PE, PP 1 million tons of PET, 2 million tons of PP,
0.5 million tons of PE
Courier bags PE 0.7 million tons of PE
Cushion packaging EPS, PE 1 million tons
Disposable tableware PS, PP 2 million tons
Eisai nonwoven fabric PP, PET 2 million tons
Durable goods Home appliance PVC, PP 0.3 million tons
Furniture PVC, PP 2 million tons
Storage box PE, PP 1 million tons
Wallpaper PVC 2 million tons
75Waste Disposal & Sustainable Energy (2019) 1:67–78
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Recycling ofplastic wastes
According to statistics, the annual output of municipal solid
waste has reached more than 210 million tons in China [33],
among which the waste plastics account for 11% (about 23
million tons) [34]. As for the recycling and utilization of
waste plastics, the average recycling rate in China is only
25%, about 14 million tons of waste plastic are discarded
each year [35].
Waste plastic recycling not only saves national resources
and promotes economic development, but also makes great
contribution to environmental protection. It is a green envi-
ronmental protection industry that benefits the country
and people. At present, waste plastics are piled up without
being recycled effectively in many cities, causing severe
environmental pollution problems. The waste plastic recy-
cling industry in China is in its early infancy and consists of
small- and medium-sized manufacturers.
Plastic wastes treatments
The complexity of plastic types and high cost of separating
make it difficult to recycle and reprocess the plastic wastes.
According to statistics, only 9% of the plastics were recycled
and about 12% were sent to waste to energy (WTE) plant for
incineration, while most of the plastics (79%) were disposed
as trash and end up in landfill or in the natural environment
[4].
Resource recovery fromplastic wastes
Thermoplastics like PE, PP and PET that are sorted out
from the waste stream by citizens can be recycled to the
primary material. Waste PE, PP and PET can be made
into finished products after granulation, or be directly
processed by simply cleaning, crushing and plasticizing.
The utilization mode without any modification is called
direct recycling. Direct recycling is characterized with low
operating costs, low equipment and technological require-
ments. However, direct recycling also has negligible defi-
ciency. It cannot be used in the production of higher qual-
ity products. In order to improve the quality of recycled
materials, it is often necessary to add a certain proportion
of virgin PE, PP, or PET materials, which accordingly
increase the manufacturing cost [36]. Modified regenera-
tion refers to the modification of recycled materials by
mechanical blending or chemical grafting, which could
improve the mechanical properties of the modified regen-
erated products. Modified regeneration process routes are
more complex and some also need specific mechanical
equipment [37].
Combustion withenergy recovery (waste toenergy
orWTE)
Mixed plastic wastes have a calorific value of about 35MJ/
kg which is about 85% that of fuel oil. Therefore, they can
be used to fuel power plants, in place of coal or oil. Com-
bustion is fully controlled, does not require pretreatment
of the mixed waste plastics and is a mature technology
practiced in over one thousand plants worldwide and is
relatively mature [38]. The flowsheet of a waste to energy
process is shown in Fig.8.
The incineration of waste plastics is accompanied by
the production of toxic organic gases such as polycyclic
aromatic hydrocarbons, dioxins and furans. Plastic compo-
nents containing chlorine, nitrogen and other additives will
also release inorganic pollutants such as NOx and HCl dur-
ing the incineration process, causing secondary pollution.
A report from environmental campaigners has claimed
that UK incinerators will cause nearly £25bn of environmen-
tal harm during the next 30years by burning plastics [39].
Swindon Borough Council has proposed temporarily
stopping the recycling of mixed plastics and instead send
it to Energy-from-Waste. Swindon said this was because
of uncertainty about exports and other markets.
Fig. 8 Process flow chart of combustion with energy recovery
76 Waste Disposal & Sustainable Energy (2019) 1:67–78
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Pyrolysis ofplastic wastes tooil
Since petroleum is the principal source of plastics manu-
facturing, there is great potential for transforming plastic
wastes to oil through the pyrolysis process. The oil produced
by pyrolysis has a high calorific value comparable to com-
mercial fuels.
Different types of plastics can be defined based on mois-
ture, fixed carbon, volatile matter and ash content (proxi-
mate analysis). High volatile content favors the production
of liquid oils, while high ash content reduces the amount of
liquid oils produced, thereby increasing gaseous yield and
coke formation. Most waste plastics have very high volatiles
and low ash content. It should be noted that the yield and
quality of the pyrolysis products depend on the operating
parameters of the pyrolysis process. The main parameters
include temperature, reactor type, residence time, pressure,
catalyst dosage and the type of fluidizing gas and its flow
rate [12]. Figure9 is a process flow chart of pyrolysis and
gasification of township domestic waste.
Gasication
Gasification of waste plastics produces a stream of gases
including H2, CO, CO2, CH4 and N2. A significant advan-
tage of gasification compared to pyrolysis is that it is more
flexible. Gasification of waste plastics is mainly for the
production of energy-carrying gas (H2) and synthesis gas
(fuel, dimethyl ether, methanol, etc.), wherein the syn-
thesis gas has an average calorific value of about 6–8MJ/
m3. The composition and application of the gas produced
by the gasification process depend on the gasifying agent
used [40].
The main problem of plastic gasification is the high tar
content in gas products, which is usually higher than the tar
content in biomass gasification. Therefore, gasification of
waste plastics requires a very efficient gas cleaning system.
Gasification is expected to maximize the conversion of
plastics into gas products or syngas. Tar and carbon are
the main undesirable by-products. Gasification process
includes complex chemical reactions: gas-phase drying,
pyrolysis, reforming and heterogeneous carbon gasifica-
tion, which is summarized in Fig.10.
Direct recycle has advantages of low operating cost, less
equipment and processing requirements, but it can not be
used to produce high-quality regenerated products [41].
Incineration can realize energy recovery and volume reduc-
tion of waste plastics effectively whereas it will bring severe
secondary pollution and the quality of the product is rela-
tively low [42]. Gasification has high process flexibility and
high product quality. However, the tar in syngas has become
a serious problem in large-scale application of gasification
technology [43]. Pyrolysis is not as mature as incineration,
but the mild reaction conditions, easily controlled reaction
process, high value-added products and less secondary pol-
lution make it a promising technology [44].
Fig. 9 Industrial flow chart of
pyrolysis gasification treatment
technology
Fig. 10 Flow chart of plastics
gasification
77Waste Disposal & Sustainable Energy (2019) 1:67–78
1 3
Discussion abouttheimpact ofChina’s ban
onplastic waste treatment
At present, the main means of disposal of waste plastics are
landfill, incineration, recycling, pyrolysis and gasification,
etc. For countries with systematic garbage classification,
such as the EU and Japan, the high-quality waste plastic
components (such as PP, PE and PET) can be directly used
as the raw material for plastic regeneration. As a result,
direct recycle becomes the main disposal means of waste
plastics at present and in the future. For countries that do
not have a complete waste classification system, incineration
is the most economical, efficient and convenient method to
realize the treatment of large-scale mixed waste plastics in
a long time. In addition, because of the low requirement
of raw material, controllable high-quality of products and
less environment pollution, pyrolysis as a disposal means of
waste plastics has attracted worldwide attention and research
interest. High-quality fuel and chemical materials produced
by pyrolysis could meet the world’s energy and industrial
development needs [12]. Thus, WTE technologies repre-
sented by pyrolysis are more promising methods to realize
resource reuse in the long term.
Conclusion
This review provides concise summary of the global
response to China’s ban on plastic waste imports, the cur-
rent situation on plastic waste generation and disposition in
China and sustainable resource recovery technologies from
non-recyclable plastic wastes. China’s import ban on waste
plastics has been put into force since January 1, 2018, which
led to the changes of waste plastics policy and market waste
plastics globally. Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia
have become the leading importer of plastic wastes. EU
and the US have positively responded to the China’s ban,
strategy and initiative released about plastics to restrict the
use of micro plastics and single-use plastics. Meanwhile,
main European counties like UK, Germany and France have
also taken their own active measures in response to the Chi-
na’s ban on waste plastics. In addition to the ban on waste
imports, the Chinese government has also made certain reg-
ulations on the domestic waste plastics market. The global
recovery rate of waste plastics is only about 10%. Waste to
energy technologies based on pyrolysis and other thermal
disposal means are promising technology to realize the uti-
lization of non-recycled plastic wastes. Through comparing
a variety of waste plastic disposal technologies, pyrolysis is
more promising method because of its mild reaction condi-
tions, easily controlled reaction process, high value-added
products and less secondary pollution.
Acknowledgements Acknowledgment is gratefully extended to
the National Key Research and Development Program of China
(2018YFC1901300).
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