China Bans Plastic Bags and Cracks Down on Stores That Carry Them

Posted Jan 8, 2008 by David Silverberg
Plastic bags clog up landfills.
Plastic bags clog up landfills.
Photo courtesy of Planet Ark
China has banned production of all plastic bags, and also demanded that supermarkets and shops cease to hand out free bags beginning June 1. This is the latest action against the plastic bag, which survives in landfills for up to 1,000 years.
Digital Journal — Plastic bags are a scourge on the planet. They have been in the crosshairs of city councils around the world seeking to erase this blight on our environment. Because a plastic bag takes 400 to 1,000 years to decompose in landfill sites, they are regarded as one the most unfriendly options for green communities.
Although it’s hard to classify China as “green,” the rising superpower is looking to take a step forward on this contentious issue. China surprised the world by banning production of ultra-thin plastic bags and encouraging the use of cloth bags or baskets. The crackdown stemmed from the need to address pollution concerns since China is one of the leading consumers of plastic bags. China uses three billion plastic bags a day and the country has to refine 37 million barrels of crude oil every year to make plastics used for packaging.
In a notice posted on the central government website, China's cabinet, the State Council, said: "Our country consumes huge amounts of plastic bags every year. While providing convenience to consumers, they have also caused serious pollution, and waste of energy and resources, because of excessive use and inadequate recycling."
Starting in June, shops, supermarkets and sales outlets are forbidden to give away free plastic bags and all carriers must be marked with their prices. The notice said that the Chinese should be using cloth bags or baskets for vegetables, for instance.
The cabinet also suggested using taxes to discourage the production and sale of plastic bags. The recycling industry needs a boost and more visibility, too.
The crackdown comes with a measuring stick: bags under 0.025 mm thick are banned on June 1, with fines and confiscation of goods and profits for firms that ignore the rules.
China’s ban is among the latest crackdowns against plastic bags. From Ireland to South Africa, city and state councils have played with heavy taxes or outright bans on this environmentally harmful product. Many stores, like Whole Foods, are also taking it upon themselves to stop using plastic bags.