June 2, 2008 / 11:59 AM / 10 years ago

China's plastic bag ban kicks in to mixed response

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s ban on free plastic bags drew a lukewarm response from some shoppers and store owners on Monday although some supermarkets across the country reported a 90 percent drop in bags consumed.

One day after the ban kicked off, authorities in Beijing fined a shop 10,000 yuan ($1,200) for “secretly using the ultra-thin plastic bags”, the Beijing Evening News said.

The amount was the maximum stipulated by the law and aimed at deterring other businesses, it quoted officials as saying.

Under China’s new anti-plastic bag laws, flimsy bags under 0.025 millimeters thick are banned and shopkeepers must charge for carrier bags. Those found breaking the law face fines and could have their goods confiscated.

Ultra-thin bags are the main target of the crackdown because they are typically used once and then thrown away, littering streets, fields and streams and creating what the Chinese call “white pollution”.

A staff member packs a customer's items into a plastic bag at a supermarket in Changzhi, Shanxi province June 1, 2008. China is about to try to kick a 3 billion-a-day plastic bag habit. The world's most populous nation on Sunday will join a growing list of countries, from Ireland to Bangladesh, that are aiming to change shoppers' habits when a ban on the production of plastic bags under 0.025 millimetres thick comes into force. REUTERS/Stringer (CHINA).

China consumes 37 million barrels of crude oil each year to manufacture more than one trillion plastic bags. It is following in the footsteps of countries such as Ireland, Rwanda and Bangladesh to introduce a ban.

“The problem is a lot of people don’t plan their supermarket trips beforehand, so they do not remember to bring bags from home,” a supermarket cashier in Beijing told Reuters on Monday.

A cashier brings out a plastic bag for 0.30 yuan after customers agreed to pay extra to put the items they bought at a supermarket in Beijing June 1, 2008. China is about to try to kick a 3 billion-a-day plastic bag habit. The world's most populous nation on Sunday will join a growing list of countries, from Ireland to Bangladesh, that are aiming to change shoppers' habits when a ban on the production of plastic bags under 0.025 millimetres thick comes into force. REUTERS/Claro Cortes IV

Supermarkets and large department stores across China have implemented the ban fairly well, with some even reporting a 90 percent drop in the number of plastic bags consumed, Chinese media reported. Many have handed out carrier bags made of recycled cloth to customers.

But the ban was largely ignored or unheard of among small-time wet market vendors, who said charging for the plastic bags would turn away many customers.

“My tofu is only worth 50 cents a piece. It will be very hard to sell if I have to charge 20 cents for the plastic bag,” the Beijing Times quoted a vendor as saying.

Reporting by Beijing Newsroom; Writing by Guo Shipeng; Editing by Valerie Lee

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