In all likelihood, the enduring physical legacy of China’s internet boom will not be the glass-and-steel office complexes or the fancy apartments for tech elites. It will be the plastic.
The astronomical growth of food delivery apps in China is flooding the country with takeout containers, utensils and bags. And the country’s patchy recycling system is not keeping up. The vast majority of this plastic ends up, discarded, buried or burnedwith the rest of the trash, researchers and recyclers say.
Scientists estimate the online takeout business in China was responsible for 1.6 million tonnes of packaging in 2017, a ninefold jump from two years before. That includes 1.2 million tonnes of plastic containers, 175,000 tonnes of disposable chopsticks, 164,000 tonnes of plastic bags and 44,000 tonnes of plastic spoons. The total of 2018 grew to an estimated 2 million tonnes.
People in China still generate less plastic waste, per capita than Americans. But researchers estimate that nearly three-quarters of China’s plastic waste ends up in inadequately managed landfillsor out in the open, where it can easily make its way into the sea. More plastic enters the world’s oceans from China than from any other country.
Recyclers manage to return some of China’s plastic trash into usable form to feed the nation’s factories. The country recycles around a quarter of its plastic compared with less than 10% in the US.
But in China, takeout boxes do not end up recycled, by and large. They must be washed first. They weigh so little, that scavengers must gather a huge number to amass enough to sell to recyclers.
For many overworked or merely lazy people in urban China, the leading takeout platforms Meituan and Ele.me are replacing cooking or eating out as the preferred means of obtaining nourishment. Delivery is so cheap, and the apps offer such generous discounts, that it is possible to believe that ordering a single cup of coffee for delivery is a sane, reasonable thing to do.
China is home to a quarter of all plastic waste that is dumped out in the open. Scientists estimate that the Yangtze River emptied 367,000 tonnes of plastic debris into the sea in 2015, more than any other river in the world, and twice the amount carried by the Gangesin India and Bangladesh.
Takeout apps may be indirectly encouraging restaurants to use more plastic. Restaurants in China that do business through Meituan and Ele.me say they are so dependent on customer ratings that they would rather use heavier containers, or sheathe an order in an extra layer of plastic wrap, than risk a bad review because of a spill.
Source: The Times of India
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