No trip to rural China was without scenes of plastic bags gathering like patches of white snow. No city street was clear of bags blowing through the air.
A year after the government enacted the Regulation on Limiting Production; Sales and Usage of Plastic Shopping Bags, pollution is slowly clearing from the country's landscape, but still some habits are hard to break.
On June 1 last year, all stores- from major supermarkets to small shops- were banned from giving out free plastic shopping bags to customers. The production and sale of bags thinner than 0.025 millimeters was also prohibited, however, thicker plastic bags are still allowed but at a price consumers must pay.
The law encouraged millions of Chinese to switch from plastic to fabric or other reusable bags. Most retailers obeyed the ban to avoid a fine of up to 10,000 yuan (1,464 U.S. dollars).
"Environmental awareness among customers has risen noticeably. About eight in 10 customers carry their own bags when shopping and less than 20 percent of customers pay for plastic bags," says Ji Honghui, manager of a supermarket owned by the Dannis retail group based in Zhengzhou, capital of central Henan Province.
Before the ban, Ji's store gave out more than 15,000 free plastic bags each day. Now it sells about 200 plastic bags a day.
Nationwide, the use of plastic bags at supermarkets is down an average of 66 percent since the ban, according to a survey released on May 20 by the China Chain Store and Franchise Association.
That means, since June, 40 billion fewer plastic bags have been given out at supermarkets, the survey showed.
Zhang Boju, head of the research department of Friends of Nature, the first non-government environmental organization in China, said the use of plastic bags at supermarkets fell from 1 billion a day before the ban to 200 million or 300 million a day now.
Before the ban, another 2 billion bags were given out each day at places other than supermarkets, according to the China Plastics Processing Industry Association.