UN environment chief Achim Steiner has praised a recent decision by the Chinese government to impose limits on the use of plastic bags taking effect on June 1, as part of the country's dual-purpose campaign to protect the environment and save energy.
"This is a positive decision by China. It also underlines a growing and welcome international trend by countries, cities and communities to crack down on flimsy thin plastic bags," Steiner said in a written interview with Xinhua.
"The impact of a ban on thin plastic bags, in an economy the size of China, has the potential to influence similar policies in the Asia region and globally," said the UN under-secretary general and executive director of the UN Environment Program (UNEP).
In a circular posted on the Chinese government's website (www. gov.cn) last Tuesday, the General Office of the State Council ordered a ban on the production, sale and use of ultra-thin bags ( defined as less than 0.025 mm thick) as of June 1. Further, supermarkets and shops will be banned from giving free plastic bags to customers as of that date.
Steiner said plastic bags seem innocent enough, yet they represent real environmental hazards with discarded plastic bags not only unsightly but linked with the choking of animals and livestock.
He said banning flimsy bags and encouraging alternatives and recycling are conducive to raising environmental public awareness.
Speaking of the revenues expected to be raised from selling plastic bags, Steiner said, "In Kenya, UNEP, working with the local environmental management agency, has proposed that such revenues be used to encourage municipal recycling schemes that address the full spectrum of the local waste stream."
"Other options include using the revenues to reduce the labor costs in environmentally friendly industries such as recycling or ones that support natural fibers and carrier bags made of alternative, natural materials," said Mr Steiner.
(Xinhua News Agency January 16, 2008)