Friday, January 11, 2008

China Bans Free Plastic Bags

The land of the multiplying coal fire power station is about to take a great leap forward - by banning the practice of stores handing out free plastic bags to shoppers, according to Jane Macartney of the Times (see link above).

Citing energy waste and pollution as the driving forces, this ground-breaking initiative will come into effect on June 1st and is aimed at dramatically reducing the use of plastic bags across the country. The modern Chinese retail sector gives away three billion such bags a day and the economy is currently using five million tons of crude oil a year to produce them along with other plastic wrappings. From the summer, Chinese shoppers will have to revert to their older practice of taking a net shopping bag or taking their groceries home in paper or permanent cotton shopping bags. Alternatively they can buy them from the retailer - perhaps the weak point of this policy.

It's a move that the West should imitate. Governments are often guilty of tinkering round the edges of environmental issues when sometimes stronger action is needed. Despite all the progress in recycling and waste reduction in recent years, plastics remain the Elephant in the Living Room. They use a lot of oil to produce, do not bio-degrade within any meaningful timescale and are notoriously difficult to recycle.

Personally, I see plastics as the next big issue in domestic environmental action.

It's ironic that China - whose modernization programmes are often cited by Western governments as one of the reasons they will not commit to binding reductions in greenhouse gases - should take a lead in this area.

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