Want to use plastic shopping bags? Pay, please! And the bags will become thicker.
This is what hundreds of millions of Chinese shoppers will experience when they check out at cashiers of supermarkets across the country starting this Sunday.
In January, the State Council, China's cabinet, promulgated a regulation on the distribution of paid plastic shopping bags in retail outlets, which takes effect on June 1.
Under the regulation, as of Sunday, retailers could be fined up to 10,000 yuan (1,440 U.S. dollars) for providing shoppers with free plastic bags. Retailers would have to list the number and prices of shopping bags separately on the sales documents given to consumers.
The regulation also bans the manufacture, sale and use of ultra-thin plastic bags -- those defined as less than 0.025 millimeter thick.
The regulation does not apply to plastic packaging for the hygiene and safety of products such as food and cooked food.
This is so far the largest-scale action the country has taken in the retail sector for environment protection. It is of exceptionally-high significance, hailed industry officials.
"White pollution" has become a growing concern for the government as Chinese consumers have become accustomed to carrying their purchases in free plastic bags, which retailers began to offer more than a decade ago.
To date, plastic shopping bags have practically become a necessity of Chinese shoppers. According to the All-China Environment Federation, the country consumes about 3 billion plastic bags daily, with one-third of them used for vegetables and meat from supermarkets and farm produce fairs.
Plastic bags are mainly made of polythene and PVC. They will pollute the air if burnt. They will decompose over 100 years if buried, damaging soil.
"The campaign against plastic bags will effectively control white pollution in the country," said Dong Jinshi, vice-director of the Packing Resources Utilization Commission of the China Packing Association.
Industry experts say China could reduce two-thirds of its plastic bag usage if the campaign is effectively implemented.