China limits plastic bag use

Reusable plastic bags at a supermarket in Beijing.

Reusable plastic bags at a supermarket in Beijing.   | Photo Credit: — Photo Xinhua

To reduce energy consumption and pollution

BEIJING: Wang Yali is busy packing her groceries at a supermarket as usual. However, something is different today: she doesn’t put her goods into plastic shopping bags, but stuffs them all into her own bag.

From Sunday on, all Chinese retailers, including supermarkets, department stores and grocery stores, will no longer provide free plastic shopping bags. China is trying to reduce the use of plastic bags to reduce energy consumption and polluting emissions.

“It doesn’t matter how much the plastic shopping bag costs. What matters is our sense for environmental protection,” said Ms. Wang.

“Customers are encouraged to carry their own bags,” said an official in an on-line interview. Chinese have enjoyed free plastic shopping bags for more than a decade. Those shopping bags used to bring lots of conveniences to shoppers. However, they also caused a heavy burden on the environment.

According to an estimate by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the top economic planner, at least 1,300 tons of oil would be consumed daily to produce the shopping bags for supermarkets alone. In addition, China has banned ultra-thin plastic bags, or those thinner than 0.025 mm.

“Plastic bags are difficult to be degraded,” said an official. “The plastic waste accounted for more than 3 to 5 per cent of the daily waste, most of which came from plastic bags.” Retailers have begun to charge fees, ranging from 0.2 yuan (0.02 U.S. cents) for small sized plastic bags to more than 10 yuan for fabric ones, for the shopping bags.

Many supermarkets, including Wal-Mart, Carrefour and Jian-Mart, have established green paths for those carrying their own bags.

A sample survey conducted by the Social Survey Institute of China on 1,000 people in 10 major cities, including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, showed 69.2 per cent held the rule would have only limited impact on environmental protection as many would still use plastic bags despite having to pay for them.

Ma Fengluan, a plastic bag wholesaler, said the medium-sized, ultra-thin plastic bags that carried 6 kg were 0.06 yuan each, and a thicker one of the same size cost only 0.15 yuan. The difference was too small to be noticed for customers.

Experts said retailers could sell shopping bags at a higher price, so to make customers shift from “passively receiving the rule to actively refusing plastic bags.” — Xinhua

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