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Material flow analysis of China’s five commodity plastics urges radical waste infrastructure improvement

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  • Xiaomei Jian
  • Peng Wang
  • Ningning Sun
  • Wen Xu
  • Lingxuan Liu
  • Yichun Ma
  • Wei Qiang Chen
Article number025002
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>1/06/2022
<mark>Journal</mark>Environmental Research: Infrastructure and Sustainability
Issue number2
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date18/05/22
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Plastic waste is one of the most pressing global environmental challenges. As the world’s largest plastic waste generator and importer, China has implemented various policies to promote sustainable plastic waste management. However, the quantitative understanding of China’s application-specific plastic waste recycling and its infrastructure development is still quite limited. Here, we build up a unified framework to investigate the recycling and the corresponding infrastructure status of five commodity plastics in China, which are polyethylene, polypropylene, polyvinyl chloride, polystyrene and acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (PE, PP, PVC, PS, ABS) from 2000-2019. We find that: (1) in total, China consumed around 981.4 million tons (Mt) of the five commodity plastics from 2000-2019, generating 590.4 Mt of plastic waste, only 27% of which was recycled, 34% was landfilled and 32% was incinerated; (2) PP (∼30%) and PE (∼28%) have the highest recycling rate in China, which is related to their huge consumption base, while PS and ABS have the lowest recycling rate at only ∼26%; (3) the waste recycling performance is determined by its applications, and the worst recycling rates (<20%) are the packaging and commodity sectors due to their poor collection, while higher recycling rates (⩾30%) are found in the building and construction, agriculture and transportation sectors due to the special waste collection systems in these sectors; (4) our further examination of the recycling potential reveals that around 56% of packaging waste can be recycled by adjusting waste management infrastructure (in the collection, pre- and end-processing). Our results can help bridge information gaps and support policymaking to improve sustainable plastic waste management.

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Publisher Copyright: © 2022 The Author(s). Published by IOP Publishing Ltd.