There were no hearings, no surveys done, no polls taken, no research commissioned.
And maybe that is a good thing.
China’s leaders simply made a decision with a snap of the fingers. As of Sunday, all ultra-thin bags were banned nationwide, while other plastic bags can only be handed out at a charge. The government essentially declared war on the plastic shopping bag.
And there is sound reason for the war. China is by far the world's biggest consumer of plastic bags, going through an estimated three billion every day. Until this week, it has been consuming at least 1,300 tons of oil daily to produce bags for supermarkets alone.
Experts say plastic products, including bags, comprise three to five percent of China’s daily waste.
Forcing customers to bring their own reusable bags will take some getting used to. Stores will still be able to sell thicker plastic bags to shoppers. But already shoppers are beginning to tote their own.
This subject reminds me of a puzzling interview I once had with a U.S. environmentalist who expressed little concern about the sorry state of China’s skies and waterways. He said that as an authoritarian state, China could implement changes and make improvements very quickly and that he wasn’t particularly worried about the smoggy skies. He noted how bad London’s air quality was in 1952, when in December of that year a cold snap forced Londoners to burn more coal. The resulting Great Smog killed thousands of people and gave impetus to a growing environmental movement.
China can act even more quickly than London did, he added. If China can ban plastic bags, imagine what else it can do without fussing about public opinion and business owners worried about a decline in sales.
This isn’t meant as a defense of benevolent authoritarianism. But in some cases, the public may well benefit from quick action.