May 30

China phases out thin plastic bags

Written by Nimrod on Friday, May 30th, 2008 at 7:04 am
Filed under:Environment, News | Tags:, ,
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In the deluge of earthquake news, something like this that affects daily life in China has managed to slip under the radar.

This article describes a situation that people in China are already aware of. At least in Shanghai, it’s said that an extra charge will be imposed to get your goods in those familiar plastic grocery bags.


The Chinese government is set to ban the manufacture and force shopkeepers to charge for the distribution of bags thinner than 0.025 millimeters thick as of June 1.

The Chinese government is banning production and distribution of the thinnest plastic bags in a bid to curb the white pollution that is taking over the countryside. The bags are also banned from all forms of public transportation and “scenic locations.” The move may save as much as 37 million barrels of oil currently used to produce the plastic totes, according to China Trade News. Already, the nation’s largest producer of such thin plastic bags, Huaqiang, has shut down its operations.

The effort comes amid growing environmental awareness among the Chinese people and mimics similar efforts in countries like Bangladesh and Ireland as well as the city of San Francisco, though efforts to replicate that ban in other U.S. municipalities have foundered in the face of opposition from plastic manufacturers.

The last sentence is ironic. China is no stranger to big government regulations, of course, but one can’t argue with the efficiency with which it can operate.

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12 Responses to “China phases out thin plastic bags”

  1. DJ Says:


    I would like to be the first one to welcome your first entry at this blog!

  2. Opersai Says:

    Efficiency sometimes is one of the advantage of centralized power. I vaguely remember reading democracy is securing the freedom of people at the cost of efficiency.

  3. Michelle Says:

    The last sentence is not technically ironic. In fact it’s all too sadly familiar.

  4. Buxi Says:

    Great topic that deserves more attention.

    Wasn’t there also discussion about banning those disposable chopsticks (biodegradable but requires much wood)? Or was that in Taiwan?

  5. Nimrod Says:

    DJ: Thank you for the welcome. There is certainly a lot to say about this and other topics, if I can find the time!

    Michelle: You’re right. The sentence itself isn’t ironic, though the situation is. It is ironic on some level that the land that gave birth to the environmental movement is having trouble going forward. Environment is certainly another of the “long-term” and non-localizable governance issues that do not seem to play well with alternating political parties at the national level.

    Buxi: I think there have been some voluntary or local moves towards banning disposable chopsticks, but nothing like this plastic bag ban. On the other hand, I personally don’t have problems with using waste wood for chopsticks, especially if it is done with renewable and managed forestry, but I understand it is difficult to distinguish the source in practice.

  6. yo Says:

    Good post, cheers!

  7. Samantha Says:

    Nice post. Keep up the good work!

  8. Buxi Says:

    Looks like this is another one of those undemocratic, authoritarian moves by the Chinese government:


    70% of those polled in Beijing don’t approve of the plastic bag ban.

  9. Nimrod Says:

    Thanks Buxi. I’ll translate a bit of this United Daily News (Taiwan) article for those who don’t read Chinese:

    According to a survey by Beijing’s Social Survey Institute of China (SSIC), 63% of the people do not support the bag ban, and only 21% of them support it. Seventy percent of the people believe the bag ban could not reach its environmental goal.

    Xinhuanet reports that, according to the “Regulation of the Fee-Based Use of Plastic Shopping Bags in Retail Locations” announced jointly by the Department of Commerce, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), and the State Administration for Industry & Commerce (SAIC), beginning June 1, retail locations found to be using plastic shopping bags with unmarked price, or giving shoppers free or effectively free plastic shopping bags will be fined up to ¥10000.

    The relevant authorities will also fully inspect retail locations between June 1 and August 1 to determine if locations have legal permits and whether they have stopped using thin plastic bags…

  10. Nimrod Says:

    Here is today’s article (in Chinese) on compliance on the ground.

    Some highlights from a reporter’s investigation.

    1. Supermarkets: are complying. 95% decrease of plastic bag usage at Walmart; 90% decrease on the usual 30,000 plastic bag volume at Wumei. These are now sold at prices of ¥0.40 and ¥0.20 each (a few US cents). Carrefour reports people are taking advantage of the exempted produce plastic bags…

    2. Bazaars and farmers’ markets: many hawkers don’t seem to know the new regulation, and some are ignoring it because of small transaction amounts and competitive pressure.

    3. Malls: some are giving away cloth bags and paper bags; others are selling nylon (multi-use) bags, which they will also exchange for 50 plastic bags that the customer brings in.

    4. Bookstores: going back to the old way of string-bundling books for customers who do not wish to buy plastic bags.

    5. Fast-food chains: KFC is not asking customers to pay for bags on the receipt. The clerk said their bags are “bio-degradable”, but the reporter points out there is no such exemption. McDonalds already uses paper bags for food but replaced the plastic bag to hold the drink with a paper cupholder.

  11. DJ Says:

    Tim Johnson just posted a reasonable entry on this subject at the China Rises blog, and filed it under the benevolent authoritarianism tab.

  12. Opersai Says:


    That sounds like very positive changes! I remember I was very annoyed by the Superstore not giving free plastic bags at first, but now I think, it’s a pretty good move. =)

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