The State Council issued a notice on Tuesday requiring all supermarkets, grocery stores and free markets to stop providing free plastic bags from June 1 this year, and called for people to use baskets or cloth bags for shopping.
In fact, a similar ban has been, or is being rolled out in an increasing number of regions and countries because plastic bags are ending up in landfill sites.
It can take some 300 years for plastic bags to break down. Some of the bags are not even biodegradable.
The notice orders a complete ban on the production and use of ultra-thin plastic bags (thinner than 0.025 mm) that are not biodegradable. New criteria will be made on the production of plastic bags.
It is estimated that millions of plastic bags are used every day in China and billions of yuan is needed every year to treat or recycle them.
Calls for the ban have been made for years but never have we adopted any substantial measures to deal with the issue.
This is not only because most of us take it for granted that free bags must be provided by supermarkets or grocery stores for what we buy, but also a well-administered process is needed to ban supermarkets, groceries or free markets from handing out free plastic bags to shoppers.
But very few of us can turn a blind eye to the environmental problems plastic bags have caused. What we cannot see directly is the great waste the excessive use of plastic bags has brought about to the already scarce supply of oil resources.
Charging for the use of plastic bags may be a way to wake up the collective unconsciousness about the environmental hazard this invention of the 20th century has caused to our planet.
To prevent the devastation of the environment by plastic bags from becoming worse and the waste their use has incurred, it is absolutely right to ban any market from handing out free plastic bags.
A single notice is not enough for the ban to be administered to the letter by all the supermarkets, grocery stores and free markets. An effective mechanism must be designed by the central authorities to monitor how the ban is carried out at these places.
The notice says that governments at various levels must be responsible for the ban to be placed exactly where they should be, and those who fail to do so will face disciplinary penalties. We hope that the penalties will be severe enough to push relevant departments to pay enough attention to the issue.
(China Daily January 10, 2008)