China recently followed in the footsteps of San Francisco, announcing a ban on free ultrathin plastic bags starting in June, a bold move for a country that produces more plastic bags than any other. If it works, the idea could save China millions of barrels of crude oil a year used in producing the bags.
But will it work? Although the effort is getting a positive response from the international community, the people actually affected seem skeptical. First, there’s the matter of enforcement. The ban is only on ultrathin (or "flimsy") bags while others face a tax, so enforcement could be fairly difficult. Will the government actually devote resources to plastic bag inspection? And then there’s the question of the 100-plus plastic shopping bag producers. The China Plastic Processing Industry Association is doing a survey to gauge reaction among workers, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be positive. When Taiwain instituted a similar ban, factories organized protests.
The idea, I suppose, is that the plastic industry will be just fine because the demand for shopping bags is less than elastic. If that’s the case, will the country really end up with fewer bags? Sure, the ban is joined by governmental efforts to encourage recylcing; but, that once again raises the question of enforcement.
There’s also a small chance that exporters could start providing plastic bag, since the ban is only on domestic producers.
Despite the potential concerns, other countries are joining the movement to crack down on plastic bags. Australia has announced that it wants to develop a plan to phase out plastic bags by the end of 2008. And Israel started the new year with a law charging customers for every plastic bag they take from the grocery store. New York has taken a step in the same direction by passing a bill a couple weeks ago that would require large stores to recycle plastic bags and provide recycling bins so patrons can