Plastic is a material human use in more products than they know, from the permanent to the disposable. Yet as recyclable and reusable as people think it is, plastic is one of China's top pollutants.
Plastic bags, express delivery packaging, food containers – all of it and much more clutter the nation's rivers, roads, hills and parks now more than ever.
Experts say now is the time to act.
"If you don't recycle, how are you going to deal with it," said Professor Yang Zhongyi, an environmental expert at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou. "Plastic products irresponsibly disposed of will cause what we call 'white pollution' to the environment because they degrade very slowly."
Yang said low-grade plastics account for the majority of China's pollution problem. The growth of online shopping and food delivery services in recent years are largely to blame. He adds that people can minimize how frequently they use such conveniences.
"These low quality plastic products are difficult to recycle, therefore they become pollution," said Yang.
Difficult to recycle, but not impossible. Once put through any number of recycling mechanisms across the country, low-grade plastics are broken up and made into new products.
Higher-quality, thicker plastics such as mugs, toys are only 40 to 50 percent recyclable. While such items aren't as frequently disposed of, experts say people need to do so properly.
"The principal contradiction among Chinese people is between the growing desire of having a good life and the unbalanced development," said Lv Fenglin, Director of the Solid Waste and Heavy Metal Management Division within the Guangzhou Environmental Protection Department. "We need to follow the will of the people and put environmental protection on the agenda."
Lv said that unbalanced development is principally caused by a lack of both recycling facilities and environmental awareness in China's rural regions.
While environmental groups are taking to the land in an effort to clean up, recycling companies are acting positively, too.
"Recycling companies in Guangdong are actively seeking ways to transform and upgrade," said Lv. "Many are transferring their business abroad and building recycling factories in other countries."
Meanwhile, China's ban on 24 types of foreign solid waste, plastics included, continues.
By Mark Fontes