The government will impose limits on the use of plastic bags starting on June 1, as part of its dual campaign to protect the environment and save energy.
In a circular posted on the central government's Web site (www.gov.cn) on Tuesday, the General Office of the State Council ordered a ban on the production, sale and use of ultra-thin bags(defined as less than 0.025 mm thick) as of June 1. Further,supermarkets and shops will be banned from giving free plastic bags to customers as of that date.
China thus joins many governments that have moved to limit the manufacture, sale and use of plastic bags, according to the circular.
"Our country consumes a large amount of plastic bags. While convenient for consumers, the bags also lead to a severe waste of resources and environmental pollution because of their excessive use and low rate of recycling," said the circular. "The ultra-thin bags are the main source of 'white' pollution as they can easily get broken and end up as litter."
The campaign will encourage citizens to use fewer plastic bags.Supermarkets and shops have been instructed to charge separately for bags, which must be clearly priced. The circular said that the Ministry of Commerce and the country's top economic planner, the National Development and Reform Commission, are discussing detailed regulations on the paid use of plastic bags.
Ultra-thin plastic bags are also being banned on public transport and tourist spots, and managers at such workplaces have been directed to make sure that staff don't offer the bags.
On the government level, steps are being taken to promote recycling:
-- Environmental protection departments will be required to step up waste recycling and establish technical criteria for the process of collecting, delivering, storing and recycling plastic bags.
-- Science and technology departments have been directed to study ways to add value to used plastics.
-- Financial authorities have been urged to make greater use of taxes to control the use of plastic bags and promote recycling.
Consumers, meanwhile, must adjust. Since stores began to offer free plastic bags more than a decade ago, shoppers have grown accustomed to using the bags.
"I think (the ban) will help improve the environment. When I go shopping, I would prefer taking a fabric bag with me rather than buying a plastic one from the shop," said Jing Ruihong, a 46-year-old accountant in Beijing.
Dong Jinshi, vice-chairman of the Waste Plastics Recycling Committee of China Plastics Processing Industry Association (WPRC-CPPIA) said that the ban would cut use of plastics bags by more than 60 percent and raise the recycling rate of single-use plastic bags. He also said that the country should quickly introduce substitutes for plastic bags.
"It may be difficult for them to watch over farm produce markets and small chain stores," a female citizen surnamed Zhu said.
Large retailers such as Walmart have been advocating the use of cotton bags since late 2007. The bags are priced at 3 yuan or less than 50 U.S. cents, which is well below their production cost of about 9 yuan, said Walmart spokeswoman Huang Li.
Huang said that sales of cotton bags hadn't taken off because most customers would use free plastic bags. Nevertheless, she said, the ban would support the use of eco-friendly bags and Walmart would examine the issue closely before deciding whether to offer other kinds of substitute bags.