China Bans Plastic Bags

Chinese officials have banned stores from offering customers free plastic bags. Since the ban began in June, bag usage is down 66 percent.

  • Despite being recyclable, many plastic bags will wind up in landfills or the ocean, where they may harm and even kill wildlife. Ocean pollution litter is most severe in the east Asian seas region. China’s bag ban has already cut back on 40 billion bags.
    Photo Courtesy

In January Chinese officials announced that starting in June all shops in China would be forbidden from offering customers free plastic bags. Instead, the government is encouraging customers to use cloth bags and baskets. Three weeks into the ban and the results are already good. The country of 1.3 billion was using 3 billion bags every day – twice the amount Americans use. Now bag usage is down by 66 percent, cutting the use of 40 billion bags total.

The ban on plastic bags was partly intended to cut down China’s crude oil usage. In order to meet the nation’s demand for plastic bags, China would have to refine 5 million tons, or 37 million barrels, of crude oil each year. China has already saved 1.6 billion tons of petroleum.

Although many stores are not complying with the ban, China’s State Administration for Industry and Commerce has sent out 600,000 regulators since March to inspect 250,000 stores. So far, 2 million yuan in fines have been imposed.

By outlawing plastic bags, China joins the likes of Ireland, South Africa, Russia, Hong Kong, San Francisco and other nations and cities worldwide. The fight against plastic bags within the U.S. has seen less success. This month store owners and residents of Baltimore united together against a proposed 25-cent fee for plastic and paper bags in the city, and a similar bag ban in Philadelphia lasted only one week before getting squashed by the city council. In January, Seattle enacted a 20-cent "green fee" in for paper and plastic bags. However, Washington D.C. passed a bag ban just a few weeks ago, and Los Angeles is expected to institute a ban in 2010.

Plastic bags are the biggest source of ocean pollution. Although often reused, most plastic bags aren’t recycled, winding up instead in landfills or in the world’s oceans.

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