The Chinese government says it is banning shops from handing out the ultra-thin plastic bags that have become a global mainstay in grocery stores. The ban includes supermarkets, department stores and shops from giving the bags away for free. The bags may be sold to customers but retailers are prohibited from including the cost of the bags in their wares. The ban goes farther, however, blocking even the manufacture of bags 0.025 millimeters thick and thinner.
This plastic bag ban is the latest in Beijing’s campaign to clean and prepare the city, as well as the country, for August’s Summer Olympics. Scheduled to go into effect at the start of June, the plastic bag ban is aimed at reducing the country’s so-called “white trash,” named so because the most common color for the offending plastic bags is white, and such trash is visible in China’s landfills and dominant in the country’s litter problem.
China joins a growing number of countries and cities around the world who have banned the flimsy plastic bags; here in the U.S., San Francisco recently became the first city to do so.
The Chinese government estimates that in Shenzhen alone, a coastal city in the Guangdong Province with over 8 million people, retailers use at least 1.75 billion plastic bags each year. Most of these bags are thrown away after a single use. A government release announcing the ban read: “The ultra-thin bags are the main source of ‘white’ pollution as they can easily get broken and end up as litter.”
Will plastic bags become a petrochemical relic of our disposable, oil-based economy? As more countries crackdown on the convenient but irresponsible use of the bags, alternatives are moving forward. While biodegradable bioplastic companies are taking in capital and expanding, companies like Wal-Mart are taking a lower tech approach, selling reusable cotton bags in their Chinese stores.
We’re also wondering if Beijing will be less bullish on its eco-moves after the Olympic Games, and the global spotlight, has passed. The attention from the international community is putting some serious pressure on the country, which is working hard to address its environmental impact and energy consumption. While a plastic bag ban will save energy, it is a far more cosmetic concern than, say, the infamously horrendous air quality in the capital.
Though, many of the country’s green initiatives are actually substantial moves. Recently the country raised fuel standards to match the Euro IV standard to cut sulfur dioxide emissions and China is expected to be the biggest PV-cell maker in world in 2008.