China bans free plastic bags

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The People's Republic of China has banned free plastic shopping bags in a move to take effect from June 1, 2008. The decision made by the Chinese Cabinet, the State Council, is intended to reduce the amount of plastic bags used in China, currently being estimated at three billion per day. The State Council also announced that at the same time as the ban, the manufacturing, sale and even use of very thin plastic bags, which are defined as being under 0.025mm thick, will be banned. Any company that does not follow this ban can be fined.

The ban of free plastic bags and complete ban on very thin bags will, the government hopes, help reduce the amount of crude oil used for plastic packaging, which is currently at five million tonnes per year according to Times Online. The notice issued by the Chinese government said: “We should encourage people to return to carrying cloth bags, using baskets for their vegetables.”

The People's Republic of China is not the first country to ban or restrict plastic shopping bags and the notice names Uganda and South Africa according to CNN. Many supermarkets in the European Union have voluntarily adopted methods to reduce usage of plastic bags, which often also consist of charging for bags (e.g. Germany) or rewarding customer loyalty points for returning used carrier bags. Still, many of the world's leading polluting countries, including the United States of America, have not yet introduced any legislation intended to reduce the usage of plastic bags. The United States Environmental Protection Agency claimed that in 2000 only 1% of plastic bags in the United States were recycled.

The People's Republic of China has attracted a lot of attention in the past for having possibly the highest greenhouse emissions in the world, disproportionate to the size of its economy, according to The Telegraph. Times Online quoted a Chinese activist as saying that plastic bags are not the main problem and the government needed to make people care more about the environment.