Free plastic bags may be banned at more places

Shanghai – Hospitals and restaurants may soon be prohibited from providing people with free plastic bags in the latest attempt to limit the use of the environmentally harmful product, according to the Ministry of Commerce.

A similar prohibition has already been implemented for supermarkets, department stores and open markets around the country.

The ministry is collecting public opinions about the proposal and a new regulation on the subject is being formulated, Li Jiajian, an official from the ministry’s Department of Commercial Services Administration, said on Sunday.

On June 1, 2008, in a bid to reduce energy consumption and pollution, all Chinese retailers, including supermarkets, department stores and groceries, were banned from providing free plastic shopping bags. In addition, ultra-thin plastic bags, or those with sides thinner than 0.025 mm, were entirely banned. Customers instead have to buy bags for about 0.5 yuan (8 cents).

Statistics show the ban has achieved the desired results.

Li Jing, vice-director of the Department of Resource Conservation and Environmental Protection within the National Development and Reform Commission, said the amount of plastic bags used by supermarkets nationwide fell by about two-thirds during the past three years.

“Overall, the consumption of 600,000 tons of plastic has been avoided, which equals a saving of more than 3.6 million tons of petroleum, or a reduction of about 10 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions,” said Li.

An expansion of the ban would help further reduce the use of plastic and help protect the environment.

At present, patients are provided by most hospitals with free plastic bags for carrying medicine.

“We offer various sizes of plastic bags to our patients and all of them are free,” a staff member at Shuguang Hospital in Shanghai told China Daily. “I think it surely will reduce the use of bags if we start charging people for them. They will bring their own reusable bags instead.”

Customers can also get free plastic bags at restaurants.

“If you want to take food away, disposable plastic boxes and plastic bags are all free,” said a waiter at Shanghai’s FOMO restaurant.

“And I believe, even if we start to charge for plastic bags, our business won’t be affected.”

Yang Lei, a white-collar worker in Beijing, said he will use fewer bags if they cost money.

“Plastic bags are not expensive, but I used to use lots of them when they were free and I use fewer when I have to pay for them, both because I want to save money and because of environmental protection,” said Yang.

According to Li, poor implementation of the ban exists mostly at open markets, where peddlers sell small amounts of food and do not want to charge for bags.

At a small beverage store near Huaihai Zhong Road in Shanghai, a clerk said that they had to give up charging for plastic bags because customers were unwilling to pay for them.

“A cup of milk tea is only a few yuan, if the plastic bag costs 0.5 yuan, customers are not willing to buy the drink,” he said.

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