A major shipping line is refusing to export the West's plastic waste. Here's why it matters

Nicolás Rivero, Quartz and World Economic Forum on April 25, 2022

As of today (April 15), the world’s third largest shipping line, will no longer accept deliveries of scrap plastic on any of its ships. CMA CGM’s ban is a milestone in a global backlash against wealthy nations—especially the US—dumping plastic waste in China and Southeast Asia.

China used to be the biggest destination for scrap plastic; in 1992, the country imported 72% of all plastic waste, which it would recycle and use in manufacturing. But as China’s economy has grown, so has its domestic plastic waste output. Now the country has plenty of its own plastic to recycle, without accepting imports from abroad.

China began limiting plastic imports in 2017 through a policy initiative dubbed Operation National Sword. Western countries scrambled to divert their plastic exports to southeast Asian nations like Malaysia and Indonesia, but these countries also banned or limited plastic imports in 2019. As a result of these import restrictions, US plastic scrap exports have fallen more than 70%.

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