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Declaring war on free plastic bags

Plasticbags When it was time to make a decision on whether China would ban free super-thin plastic shopping bags, the public wasn’t consulted.

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.


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Its likely that the policy is semi-short lived.

Taiwan implemented the same idea a few years ago and it worked immediately. So well that is was spectacular. Most supermarkets now let you pay for the bags (and since that is NT$ 1 per bag, you just pay)

However most smaller retailers sneaked the bags back in for free after a couple of months of "no bag" policy.

I still have same size pile of bags at home -- they are just looking a lot better (nicer logo's, thicker plastic).

The real change is coming from my daughters generation -- they are getting environmental awareness classes at school.


The Walmart bags will just say en bas Carrefour.


As with all other government mandated social program China, this one will get implemented without a hitch. I don’t think the businesses will worried about any impact of sales since the ban is across the board and people gotta eat. However I’m not sure the consumers will share the “warm and fussy” feelings when they are reminded of the new policy and the extra 2 mao and 3 mao they will probably need to add to their daily grocery bills.

Whether this program will reap the intended social, economical and environmental benefits, or simply be reduced to a form-over-substance publicity campaign remains to be seen. I’m sure anyone who has shopped in supermarkets in China can happily recall the pleasant experience of being told to check bag first. I won’t be surprised if some of the large chains start mandating their store brand bags somewhere down the road to avoid having to examine and monitor the variety of totes and baskets brought in by cost-conscious customers. And imagine walmart’s China management team watching in horror as shoppers coming out of their stores carrying bags with Carrefour logos proudly displayed.

Wilbur Varela

Here is a clear case where we can learn from China. Plastic bags are a foul blight on our world. Here in the US, they are experimenting with biodegradable bags made from soy......we should mandate their use at the state, local and federal levels, and find a way to collect the millions of bags floating in our oceans.



I don't think CNN and BBC would say those stupid slogans about environmental efforts by CCP. I believe they realized that the new generation of Chinese (the generation of "little emperor") are not stupid. The new generation didn't buy the idea that they have to tear down their house (free Tibet) in order to win freedom from the man (CCP) of the house. Western media are going to be very careful to form their arguments in the future.


//They should restrict the uses of private cars and invest more on public transportation.//

And have news report of CNN and BBC and such yell: "Oh dictatorship! Oppression! The evil commies!!!" ?


To wgj --I think Tim is making a point on the speedy process compared to the public hue and cry this type of thing would raise in the U.S. It would be debated for years with no clear resolution. Even if Chinese leader thought about this, and I"m sure they did, the system here means they can implement the decision much more quickly and thoroughly than in a democratic system such as the U.S.


They should restrict the uses of private cars and invest more on public transportation.


"There were no hearings, no surveys done, no polls taken, no research commissioned." - How do you know that? Did you ask senior government officials for confirmation or are you just speculating - "with a snap of the fingers"?


But if war is declared on plastic bags, what is to become of shrink wrapped magazines?

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"China Rises" is written by Tom Lasseter, the Beijing bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers.

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