China moves to end its 'ban' on PS food packaging

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BEIJING — China appears set to end its 14-year-old ban on expanded polystyrene takeout containers and tableware. Authorities on March 20 specifically announced five reasons for the policy change.

Meanwhile, the Chinese media has reported that an alliance of 10 PS container manufacturers paid 4.5 million yuan ($723,721) to a Beijing law firm for lobbying and public relations efforts to lift the ban.

In explaining its decision, the country's National Development and Reform Commission, one of its top economic policy making bodies, said PS food containers comply with national food packaging standards, are recyclable, are widely used in many countries including the United States, Japan, and the European Union, and can help save petroleum resources with its lightweight nature.

The commission added that circumstances had changed since the ban was enacted in 1999, when it was an attempt to curb so-called "white pollution."

Jinghua Times reported on the lobbying effort by the Guangdong Disposable Foam Plastic Food Containers Commonwealth and the JunZeJun Law Offices. According to the report, each of the 10 companies in the group made an initial payment of 50,000 yuan ($8,041) for the effort.

It is not clear what effect lifting the polystyrene packaging ban would have, as the law was not always strictly enforced and PS containers remained widely available in restaurants around the country.

PS containers and tableware could be legally used as early as May 1, according to an article in China's state-run Global Times newspaper. The NDRC first proposed lifting the ban in 2011.

While plastics industry officials maintained that PS packaging is safe and said the problem is a lack of recycling management, some advocates for the ban told media that polystyrene packaging in China is frequently made from recycled materials that may be dirty and not suitable for use in food packaging.