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Public environmental awareness improves a year after government plastic bag ban
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08:37, May 24, 2009

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Gao Jie has collected a dozen non-woven fabric bags over the past year, since China banned free plastic bags from retailers on June 1, 2008.

Gao said she used to take it for granted when supermarkets offered free plastic bags. She never felt the urge to avoid using plastic bags although she was aware of "white" pollution caused by such bags.

Yet, nearly a year after the government ban, she has developed a new habit of taking a fabric bag with her when going out for shopping.

Gao was among millions, if not billions, of Chinese who had switched from plastic bags to fabric or other reusable bags, after they had to pay for plastic bags at supermarkets, department stores and grocery stores.

As a result, nationwide use and disposal of plastic bags had been reduced, as expected by the government when it enacted the ban.

The use of plastic bags at supermarkets was down by an average 66 percent than before the ban, according to a survey released Wednesday by the China Chain Store and Franchise Association.

That means nearly 40 billion plastic bags were spared in the period, if compared to pre-ban uses, the survey showed.

At a Wal-Mart store in Xuanwu District of Beijing, Wu Dan, who has worked there as a cashier for more than two years, said she sent out two bunches of plastic bags, 100 for each bunch, during her 8-hour shift before the ban.

She said many customers demanded to put foodstuff and daily necessities in separate bags when they were getting free plastic bags.

But now, she only needed less than half a bunch during her shift.

China has developed into a big consumer society since plastic bags became available in the country in the 1990s. Before the ban, at least 1,300 tonnes of oil were consumed every day to produce shopping bags for supermarkets alone.

By launching the campaign against the wide use of plastic bags, the Chinese government said it was aiming to protect the environment and conserve energy.

Frances Fremont-Smith, China president of the U.S. Future Generations, a worldwide organization that promotes sustainable livelihoods, said such practice of the Chinese government was "of great value."

Her organization gave away 20,000 reusable fabric bags in different Chinese cities last year, and helped persuade people to use fabric bags instead of plastic ones at shops and supermarkets in support of the government ban.

Nearly a year after the ban, the scene of plastic bags fluttering in the air on windy days is rare, even in the countryside, said Frances, who has been living in China for more than 30 years and has often visited rural areas.

Zhang Boju, head of the research department of Friends of Nature, the first non-government environmental organization in China, said the government ban on free plastic bags usage could be seen as a clear demonstration of government response to environmental pollution.

Such practice from the government should be encouraged, Zhang said.

Frances said the government ban in China is widely admired by many other governments, as the practice is rare across the world.

The use of plastic bags at consumers' expense is a smart move to cut its usage, Zhang added.

In the first month of the ban, the use of plastic bags at department stores and supermarkets was down by 80 percent to 90 percent, and by 50 percent at farm produce markets, according to a survey by his organization.

The use of plastic bags fell from 1 billion a day to 200 million or 300 million a day, he said.

"More people volunteer to reduce their use of plastic bags, not only because of their costs," said Robin Lu, a consumer at Wal-Mart.

For the 26-year-old, saving money and doing something for a clean environment are both very fashionable.

However, the ban is not impenetrable. Free plastic bags are still frequently seen at some farm produce markets.

Zhang said enhanced supervision is needed over small plastic bags plants and farm produce markets to make the ban more effective.


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