China vowed to improve the recycling rates of plastic mulch used in farming, the government said on Wednesday, amid mounting concerns about soil contamination as unrecovered bits of the thin film get left behind, leaving traces in crops.
Plastic mulch, basically thin sheeting placed over individual crops, is used throughout China’s arid and dusty north to improve growing conditions and boost yields by retaining moisture for crops and suppressing weeds.
A notice published by several ministries on Wednesday said China would work to improve the recovery rate of plastic mulch to 80% next year and ensure there is “zero growth” in the amount of plastic mulch used. It will aim to bring recovery rates to 100% and start reducing total land coverage by 2025.
The notice said China would also work to improve its monitoring capability and include mulch pollution in the performance indicators of local government officials. Manufacturers will also be put under pressure to improve product standards.
China uses about 2 million to 3 million tonnes of plastic mulch every year, but waste treatment capacity amounts to just 180,000 tonnes, Yan Changrong, a researcher with the China Rural Science Institute, said at a recent forum.
While the use of plastic film can boost yields significantly in the short term, unrecovered remnants eventually degrade the soil and can also contaminate crops, with Chinese exports of spinach and ginger found to contain traces of plastic, said Xu Jingeng, a parliamentary delegate for Shandong province, in a proposal submitted to the National People’s Congress in March.
Handling large volumes of plastic waste has become one of China’s pressing challenges. The country’s recycling capacity stands at around 23 million to 25 million tonnes, only half of total annual plastic waste produced, according to data from the Beijing Chemistry University.
The city of Shanghai is gradually restricting the use of single-use plastics in catering, and the island province of Hainan has already vowed to completely eliminate single-use plastic by 2025.