In January, China's State Council issued a directive banning the production of ultra-thin plastic bags nationwide. The ruling also prohibits shops and supermarkets from handing out free plastic bags starting on June 1, according to China News Agency. The imposition of fees on plastic bag usage is expected to influence consumer behavior in China and bring environmental benefits in the coming years.
Free plastic bags were introduced in China in the 1980s in Guangdong province, where the commercial sector first boomed following economic reforms. The convenience of the light and waterproof carriers led the bags to rapidly supplant more cumbersome traditional woven baskets throughout the country. Since then, decades of free bag handouts have instilled in consumers a mentality of "better more than fewer" and encouraged a wanton use-and-discard habit.
The Chinese use up to 3 billion plastic bags daily and throw away more than 3 million tons annually, according to Market News. Most of the bags end up in landfills or in unofficial dumping sites, where they can take hundreds of years to break down.
The new directive has met with mixed responses. While environmentalists and concerned citizens welcome its potential effects in curbing pollution, many consumers are concerned about the inconvenience it may bring...