Plastics and packaging laws in China

1. What is the general legislative framework regulating packaging and plastic waste in your jurisdiction?

In recent years, China has paid increasingly more attention to the sustainable development of industries and environment protection. A series of laws and regulations (including the Opinions on Further Strengthening the Clean-up of Plastic Pollution, the Implementing Plan for Improving the Mechanism to Boost Consumption 2018-2020, and the Guiding Opinions on Actively Promoting the Innovation and Application of Supply Chains) have been published setting out the basic principles and national strategies.  The government intends to guide the plastic and packaging industry towards sustainability, environmental protection and recyclability. 

Different government authorities have published implementation measures within their jurisdictions. For example, delivery companies are required to use environmental-friendly packaging materials under the Administrative Measures for Packaging of Mail and Express Post issued by the Ministry of Transport in February 2020. Violations will result in administrative penalties such as fines. Furthermore, the measures read “reusable and easily recyclable packaging is encouraged to be used if applicable and the situation allows”. This rather weak wording tends not to generate enough encouragement, as experience shows. Since e-commerce volumes have skyrocketed in recent years in China, the delivery industry is responsible for vast amounts of package waste, mostly consisting of environmentally unfriendly materials.

Enterprises and business owners that use plastic bags and other disposable plastic products such as commodity retail outlets, e-commence platform enterprises and take-away enterprises are required to report their use of disposable plastic products to the relevant authorities. The Measures for Reporting the Use and Recycling of Disposable Plastic Products in the Commercial Field set out legal consequences for failure, stating “for delayed, or untrue reports, corresponding penalties will be imposed in accordance with laws and regulations”. 
Enterprises and individuals that generate, collect, store, transport, utilise, and dispose of solid waste shall take measures (e.g. complying with the compulsory standards for restricting excessive packaging for commodities, and use of non-degradable plastic and other disposable plastic products) to prevent or reduce potential environmental pollution. Consequences for violation can be found in regulations, such as the Law on Prevention and Control of Environmental Pollution Caused by Solid Waste. 

  1. Firstly, where a producer or operator fails to comply with the compulsory standards for restricting excessive packaging for commodities, they will be asked to make correction; in the case of refusal to correct, a fine will be imposed. 
  2. Secondly, whoever fails to abide by pertinent state regulations on the prohibition and restriction of the use of non-degradable plastic bags and other disposable plastic products or fails to report the use of plastic bags and other disposable plastic products will be ordered to make corrections and will be subjected to a fine.

2. Are there any measures, existing or expected, in respect of single-use plastics?

In April 2017, the National Development and Reform Commission proposed in the Guiding Programme on the Cyclic Development to publish a list of single-use plastics whose production and sale are prohibited. The Commission also proposed making eco-design standards for single-use plastics to increase recycling rates, and improving the current extended producer responsibility system.

In December 2018, the State Council launched a plan to restrict the production, sale, and use of single-use plastic bags and tableware, and to expand the application of degradable plastic products. The performance of enterprises in service industries such as hotels and catering will be monitored and evaluated. Enterprises will be evaluated based on their environmental achievements. For negative performance, cross-departmental joint punishment will be imposed.

Implementation measures have been formulated and carried out gradually in different sectors and different provinces. The Law on Prevention and Control of Environmental Pollution Caused by Solid Waste puts forward clear requirements regarding using single-use plastics in the commercial field: “The State shall legally forbid and restrict the production, sale and use of non-degradable plastic bags and other disposable plastic products.” Violations will be subject to corrections and fines. Supporting implementation measures have been issued, but not all objectives have worked out. For example, the catering industry set out to eliminate the use of non-degradable disposable plastic straws by 2020, but well into 2021 plastic straws all but disappeared in China. 

On a local level, after having experimented with prohibiting supermarkets from handing out free plastic bags over the past decade, on September 2020 Shanghai issued the Strategies on Further Strengthening the Implementation of a Plastic Pollution Control Programme, which stipulate that “by the end of 2020, the city-wide shopping malls, supermarkets, pharmacies, bookstores and other places and various exhibition activities are to prohibit the use of disposable plastic shopping bags”.    

3. Are there any existing or expected producer responsibility schemes in place for packaging or plastics?

China began the promotion of producer responsibility schemes starting in 2016 and aims to have supporting regulations and rules ready by 2025.

4. Are there any existing or expected deposit return schemes (“DRS”) in place for packaging or plastics?

There is no deposit return scheme in place for packaging or plastics in China.

5. Are there any existing or expected taxes on packaging or plastics?

Since 2015, taxpayers who sell self-produced renewable resource products, including plastic-waste products and composite paper packaging materials waste, may be eligible to enjoy a 50% VAT rebate ratio.

6. Are there any measures, existing or expected, regarding micro-plastics or the use of microbeads in products?

According to the Guiding Catalogue for Industrial Restructuring (2019 Edition), household and personal care products containing plastic microbeads were banned from production since 31 December 2020, and sales will be banned from 31 December 2022.

Technical standards concerning the definition, testing methods, and the use restrictions for microbeads are being formulated and published.

7. Are there any existing or expected recycling or waste reduction targets in place for packaging or plastics?

Specific figures for packaging or plastics are currently not publicly available. As an overall target, by 2020 the recycling rate of main waste should have reached around 54.6%. The comprehensive utilisation rate of general industrial solid waste should have reached 73%, and the output value of the resource recycling industry should have reached RMB 3 trillion.

8. Is the use of recycled materials in food packaging regulated?

The two main regulations prohibiting the use of recycled materials in food packaging were abolished in 2018 and 2020 respectively. Currently, there is no clear requirement at the statutory level permitting or prohibiting the use.


Portrait of Falk Lichtenstein
Dr. Falk Lichtenstein