Chen Weihua

China beats US in green shopping bags

By Chen Weihua (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-12-01 08:11

New York might consider itself the fashion capital of the world, yet it's surely not as fashionable as Shanghai or many other Chinese cities when it comes to shopping bags.

Various cloth and canvas shopping bags have become a trend in supermarkets and on streets in many Chinese cities after the central government ban on free plastic bags went into effect in June last year. Carrying a cloth bag is not only the right thing to do to save money, but also to mitigate the effects of the worsening natural environment.

A report from the National Development and Reform Commission three months ago showed that the use of plastic bags in China's supermarkets was reduced by two-thirds during the first year of the law's enforcement. The China Retail Chain Association said two months ago that 40 billion fewer plastic bags were consumed by supermarkets nationwide during the same period.

Meanwhile, a study by British insurer RSA published in October shows that 45 percent of Chinese respondents were willing to pay a 5-10 percent eco-premium on products and services, a higher figure compared with many developed Western countries.

On plastic bags, the RSA Green Appetites report says China had the highest percentage of consumers who believed that buying reusable shopping bags was the most important environmental issue by sector, followed by France and Canada.

However, here in New York, ugly polyethylene plastic bags, which were first introduced into the supermarkets in 1977, are still the vogue.

Both New York City and New York State have only a plastic carryout bag recycling law, which requires chain or large retailers to provide a bin in which consumers can deposit unwanted plastic bags and film plastics.

Though it is widely regarded as huge progress, the effect of that law is truly doubtful. A Duane Reade cashier I asked did not know where the bin was. "It should be somewhere in the store," she said, her tone unsure. It took me a few minutes' search to detect a hardly noticeable black bin hidden behind several boxes. A man who was sorting goods on the shelf said only a few came to recycle plastic bags.

Nationwide, bans on plastic bags are only imposed in San Francisco and will be imposed in Los Angeles next year.

While many US cities have only plastic bag recycling laws, Washington DC may become the first US city to impose a bagĀ fee after the city council initially approved a bill in June.

In most US cities, such efforts have hit a snag. Several months ago, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg withdrew a proposal for a 6-cent fee on each plastic bag. Similar bills were vetoed in Seattle, Philadelphia and several other US cities as well as the states of California, Texas, Maryland and Maine.

For someone like me who arrived here looking for a role model for China's fight against environmental pollution, the number of plastic bags I have collected from New York supermarkets and grocery stores is truly a disappointment.

On plastic bags, which take some 1,000 years to be fully degraded, the city of New York and the whole United States seem to be far behind developing countries like China, Bangladesh and many African countries such as Rwanda and Eritrea, which have banned plastic bags entirely.

The call from UN Environment Program chief Achim Steiner for a global ban on plastic bags to save marine life not long ago was apparently not heard here despite the fact that the UN is headquartered in New York City.

After five years in a row at the top, New York City has been overtaken this year by Milan as the fashion capital of the world. However, if the Big Apple wants to continue to reign as the plastic bag capital of the world, there will be no rival at all.


(China Daily 12/01/2009 page8)