Officers inspecting polystyrene foam containers at a market in Beijing. (Photo/CNS)
China amended restrictions on the production of polystyrene foam tableware and food containers on Feb. 16, paving the way for the ban on the production of these products to be officially lifted in May, the website of Guangzhou's 21st Century Business Herald reports.
The move was a result of coordinated efforts made by numerous enterprises and business associations over the past 14 years to push for an end to the ban, the report said.
Statistics showed that the highest cost for producing a polystyrene plate or container was 0.12 yuan (US$0.02), which offers a 0.01 yuan (US$0.0016) profit. Based on the current annual sales of 15 billion such items, manufacturers of such products can make at least 150 million yuan (US$24.2 million) in profits each year.
After the ban is lifted, the recycling of these products will also become a problem that cannot be ignored.
Given that recalling a polystyrene container or plate costs 0.06 yuan (US$0.0097), it would require 900 million yuan (US$145 million) a year to recall all items.
An industry insider told the reporter that if the government failed to come up with complementary policies and measures, the safety of using polystyrene tableware could not be ensured, while the insufficient supervision of recycling is expected to exacerbate the waste problem.
Although the government issued a directive in 1999 demanding a ban on the use of all polystyrene tableware by 2000, more than 100 companies have continued with their illegal production. Most of these companies are located in Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Shanghai in eastern China and Guangdong and Fujian in southern China.
Industry expert Dong Jingshi said the government has directed restaurants and catering services providers to use reusable utensils. However, as the cost of reusable tableware was more than 10 times higher than that of polystyrene foam ware, the market was dominated by low-cost polystyrene products as most producers had opted to go in for underground production and even underground sales for the last 14 years.
As a result, many of these producers have had to pay large amounts of money, in some cases as much as 4.5 million yuan (US$725,000)to retain lawyers to deal with related lawsuits.
In addition, the pollution caused by these products has also caused great public concern.