Beijing may extend ban on free plastic bags

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 May, 2011, 12:00am


The ban on free plastic bags will extend from shops to restaurants and hospitals, according to an official from the Ministry of Commerce.

The ministry has been looking into extending the ban and will try to introduce the new policy as soon as possible, Li Jiajian, head of standardisation at the ministry's Commercial Service Department, was quoted as saying in a story Saturday in The Beijing News. Li did not provide a timetable.

But if the National Development and Reform Commission has its way, distribution of those plastic bags will be banned entirely. The report also quoted Li Jing, deputy head of the commission's Environmental Resources Department, as saying that the commission was preparing to submit legislation on the ban to lawmakers.

Both officials made the remarks on Friday at a seminar marking the third anniversary of the ban on free plastic bags, which went into effect June 1, 2008, the report said.

Requests made to the two ministries for comment yesterday were not answered.

Since the ban started, supermarkets, department stores and food markets have been banned from giving customers free plastic bags, and the production and use of ultra-thin plastic bags, which are considered to be highly polluting, is prohibited.

Wang Juan, a vegetable vendor at the Jinying food market in Beijing's Tuanjiehu community, said vendors at her market had been required to buy the same type of plastic bags from the market's owner since the ban took effect.

However, she did not know whether those bags polluted less than the ones used before, as they were also very cheap, and she admitted that they were still provided to consumers for free.

'For vegetables, we use two kinds of designated bags.

'The bigger [we buy for] 5 yuan (HK$6) per 100 pieces, and the smaller ones sell for half that price,' Wang said, adding she was fine with the change because it barely raised the cost.

A survey of the plastic-bag market, conducted over the past three years by the International Food Packaging Association, showed that the ban was implemented least strictly in food wholesale markets, as vendors continued using cheap, ultra-thin bags for fear of losing business if they charged customers for bags.

Of the 10 markets in Beijing it investigated, seven used designated plastic bags, but not all of those designated bags were allowed, the association said in a report posted on its website.

Wang Guyue, a housewife in Shanghai, said the difficulty in abandoning plastic bags was partly because of the country's underdeveloped paper-packaging industry.

'Chances are slim that the seller will provide you a paper bag, whether for free or not, when you buy stuff in China,' she said.

She added that the free plastic bags provided in the fruit and vegetable sections of supermarkets were extremely wasteful and the practice often abused.

'Many old people tend to take more such bags than they need when shopping in supermarkets, because if they don't buy much, they can save money by not buying bigger bags at the counter,' she said, adding that a lack of environmental awareness had been hindering the ban.


The number of plastic bags used on the mainland every day before the ban on giving them out free

Source: The International Food Packaging Association