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China Bans the Use of Plastic Bags

Shannon Arvizu | Wednesday January 9th, 2008 | 13 Comments

bags.jpeg China announced this week that production and use of plastic bags in supermarkets and retail shops will be banned beginning June 1. This new law could have a considerably positive environmental impact, given that Chinese citizens “use as many as 3 billion plastic bags a day.” The law is part of a larger campaign to fight “white pollution” in China, which includes other forms of rampant plastic and styrofoam use as well.


This bold and surprising move demonstrates that the Chinese government is starting to take pollution concerns seriously. While a few city governments here in the U.S. have passed (San Francisco) or are considering passing similar legislation (New York), it is refreshing to see a national government as powerful and influential as the China make such a decision.
So, how will plastics manufacturers, retailers, and citizens react? Anecdotal comments from the AP story show that citizens and retailers welcome the move. Sturdier plastic bags will continue to be available and the manufacturing of cloth bags can be expected to rise. In addition, Reuters reported that the Chinese government “signaled it may tweak the tax code to give the recycling industry a boost.”
Could this law trigger similar laws from other national governments? How could this work in the U.S.? I invite readers from the San Francisco region to comment on the effectiveness of plastic ban regulation in their city.


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  • Nick Aster

    Woah. This is monumental. I’m scared it’s too good to be true!

  • Dave Shires

    Very good news. I’d call this a classic leapfrog moment for China. C’mon USA, can’t we do the same?

  • Anonymous

    Will everyone be expected to bring their own bags? And what will people use for trash bags then?

  • Anonymous

    As a follow-up, the biggest thing they need to do is make the bags strong enough that people don’t need two bags to carry things that are heavy but common like drinks for fear of the bag breaking.

  • Anonymous

    Also I think they should expand recycling programs for all the other forms of plastic, glass, aluminum, and paper waste and also educating people about them. I think things in mainland China are finally such that a social consciousness beyond Bolshevism is starting to develop.

  • addy

    Does anybody know about this site ( http://www.earthlab.com ) ? I have seen other environmental sites with carbon calculators like yahoo and tree huggers, but I am wondering what the deal with earthlab.com is? I saw they also published a list last month of the top ten greenest cities ( http://www.efficientenergy.org/Top-Ten-Green-Cities-in-the-United-States ). Does anyone know if this site is better than the others? Fill me in!
    I took their carbon foot print test and it was pretty interesting, they said that I put out 4.5 tons of carbon, does anyone know about any other tests?

  • Jim Hafferty

    paper bags are a LOT worst

  • Cedrick Reese

    That is a big step! Maybe someone needs to come up with a trash bag that is stong enough and biodegradable.

  • Anonymous

    How would paper bags be worse for the environment? Paper is biodegradable. Plastic isn’t. Unless there’s something I’m missing, just the fact that plastic will stick around for centuries as a pollutant will be more detrimental than the production and use of paper.

  • Ren

    Good job China. It’s good to see a world super-power make green decisions like that. I bet the upcoming green Olympics have had some ipamct on this decision. But in the end, it doesn’t really matter the reason behind it. And if this program out, then they can start implementing other green laws. I do think that a large ( and highly polluted ) country like that needs to take this in relative baby steps.

  • Dave

    Plastic bags– (and plastic items in general which all become waste in short time and do not go “away” then– are the bane of marine and river environments around the world. These items enter urban stormwater runoff as litter, and reach the sea if they do not first become trapped on a stick and filled with silt somewhere along the riverbank. My city has river beds that are mostly just made of such bags of silt. It’s very sad. Meanwhile there are huge agglomerations of floating plastic detritus in the midocean gyres at 6 locations around the planet. Hundreds of marine species are impacted by ingestion of plastic. it’s a global problem. The plastic becomes smaller bits in size but remains suspended in the water column for decades, with food chain impacts that are still not fully quanitfied. It’s a ticking time bomb.
    I bring my own bags (canvas or other durable types) when I shop. Charge a buck for a bag that lasts several years or more, and change the baseline expectations of the nonthinking customers who will readily adapt. I am so tired of passing by my local supermarket parking lot beside the creek and pulling tens if not dozens of plastic bags out of the riparian vegetation just across the fence (downwind) of their parking lot.

  • Kai

    there are several options for producing degradable plastic bags including bags made of corn derivatives. Dow, Cargill, BASF, and Roplast which is the company supplying San Francisco with degradable bags are all in the business now.

  • Amy

    this is awesome! now china won’t be that much of a threat to the world anymore! only if it can cut down on the gases that it produces everyday. maybe USA might become the next one soon. but we’re at least trying to do something