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Tough goodbye to flimsy bin bags?

Low-quality plastic shopping sacks have been banned in China. But Li Siqi asks what teeming urban areas can do about bigger, one-time-use rubbish ones.

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With the enforcement since June of a ban on low-quality plastic shopping bags in China, it is no longer common to see them being blown around by the wind. In urban areas, though, large bin bags have become perhaps just as common as the small shopping bags used to be. Made of very similar material, they have become another source of plastic pollution. The trash collection points serving Beijing’s communities, for example, are full of rubbish enclosed in bin bags. There are worries about where these bags will end up -- and with what environmental impact.

Since 1997, Beijing has encouraged the use of bags to hold rubbish, and bin bags quickly became popular – bringing with them significant environmental issues. Beijing produced 6.19 million tonnes of domestic rubbish in 2007, filling five billion bin bags. In the past, residents formerly reused shopping bags as bin bags in order to save money. While the ban on plastic shopping bags has greatly reduced their use, according to news media reports, supermarket sales of bin bags have increased.

Unlike with shopping bags – or “white pollution” -- there are no government-enforced standards for bin bags. Hence, most small producers forced by the ban to stop producing plastic shopping bags have switched to making the ones for bins. Consequently, large quantities of low-quality bags are flooding the market.

These bags are produced mostly from discarded plastic, with the main ingredient being the same as the old shopping bags – polythene (or polyethylene), which takes centuries to biodegrade. They are usually 0.005 millimetres to 0.010 millimetres in thickness – much less than the 0.025 millimetres mandated for shopping bags -- but the same standards do not apply. Without standards and oversight, the situation will continue.

Again due to a lack of standards, the percentage of biodegradable bin bags on sale is extremely small. According to a recent survey by a journalist from Beijing’s Legal Mirror, only one or two of 10 brands of bin bags on sale in Beijing’s major supermarkets, including the French chain Carrefour, were of extra thickness or were labelled as biodegradable and “environmentally friendly”. But these cost as much as 5.80 yuan for 30 bags – much more than the standard types of bag – and so few people buy them.

Even
those that are marked as biodegradable are questionable. A spokesperson for one chemical company said that the so-called biodegradable bags actually contain only 10% to 15% biodegradable material; the remainder is entirely non-biodegradable. And the addition of the environmentally friendly material reduces the strength and waterproofing of the bags.

At least bin bags are not free, unlike the plastic shopping bags of the past. But for an increasingly wealthy urban population, the low cost involved does nothing to reduce the bags’ use, and to a certain extent they have become a daily necessity. There is no chance they will disappear of their own accord. Sanitation workers are even using them to line public litter bins. In comparison with small shopping bags – which can be supplanted by reusable sacks or baskets -- the use of household rubbish bags is relatively inflexible. And unlike shopping bags, bin bags are only ever used once.

So, although the ban has cut use of plastic shopping bags by two thirds, it will not be so easy to get rid of bin bags. Reducing their use to any significant extent and preventing their becoming a new source of urban plastic pollution will require more than a simple ban.

So how can we better deal with domestic waste? How can we prevent bin bags from becoming a new source of plastic pollution in China? Shopping bags can be swapped for reusable cloth substitutes – but what can replace plastic bin bags?

Tell us what you think on the forum.

 

Li Siqi is an associate editor of chinadialogue in Beijing.

Homepage photo by net_efekt

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Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

期待技术革新

确实是个难题,最近出现淀粉制作的环保垃圾袋了,不知道能不能解决这个问题。

anticipating innovative technology

a difficulty indeed. don't know if the new-developed bin bags made from starch will solve it.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

问题的解决不能局限于垃圾袋本身

环保型垃圾袋的发明和使用是一方面;
更为重要的是,减少垃圾的产生量,对产生出来的垃圾进行科学地分类和回收。这其实是一个非常复杂的系统工程。垃圾袋问题的解决不能局限于垃圾袋本身。头痛医头脚痛医脚的做法对于环境问题的解决长期来看没有任何益处。

The solution can not be limited to garbage bags

The invention and the use of the environment-friendly garbage bags is only one aspect; the more important thing is reducing waste production, classifying and recycling the garbage scientifically. In fact, this is a very complicated systematic project. The problem of garbage bags can not be solved confining to garbage bags only. There is no benefit to solve the environmental problems by taking stop-gap measures in the long term. (Translated by Lanmei)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

垃圾分类工作谁来做呢?

家庭进行垃圾分类很难做到,不是很容易的事

then who will do the rubbish sorting?

it is difficult for a household to do the sorting.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

环保是理念,更是行动

的确,日常生活中的垃圾分类做起来有点麻烦,但是大家依然需要坚持,日本在这方面的努力值得我们借鉴!在中国,不管是政府,还是民众,我们的行动远远不够!

Environmental protection is more an action than an idea

Indeed, rubbish sorting is a bit troublesome in daily life, but we still need to do it. It is worthwhile to learn from the Japanese experience! In China, what the government and the common people have done are far from enough!

translated by Ming Li

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

先加强分类观念

在推广拒绝塑料袋前,是否应该加强广大人民的分类观念?当人们有了分类意识,哪些垃圾属于哪类,那么在没有垃圾袋后,不是什么方案都能实施得更好吗?

First we need to strengthen the concepts of classification

Before refusing plastic bags, shouldn't we strengthen a vast number of people's concept of classification? We should get rid of plastic bags only after people have classification awareness, when they know which trash belongs to which category. Wouldn't that facilitate all of the plans?

(Translated by Michelle Deeter)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

不如依靠市场

垃圾场收取垃圾处理费,同时通过废品回收也能获得利润,采用商业化经营也许要好很多?

It would be better to depend on the market

Garbage dumps charge for garbage disposal and can get profits through recycle at the same time. To adopt such commercial operation might be a better idea.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

分类能解决问题吗?

似乎还没人关注这个,没法从家庭开始执行,同时分类未必有利于减少垃圾袋用量,每一类垃圾需要用一个吧?甚至有可能更浪费!

Can classification solve the problem?

It seems that nobody has paid attention to this and it is impossible to get the classification work started from families. Meanwhile, classification can not necessarily help reduce garbage bag consumption. Eace category of garbage would need one bag, wouldn't it? This may even lead to more bag waste.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

分类能实现吗?

目前的状况下分类似乎是操作不了的。且不说垃圾箱只有可回收和不可回收这两种粗粗的分类,就算我们把可回收和不可回收的垃圾分开扔,垃圾车来收垃圾的时候依旧是把这两种垃圾袋混到一起运走的,那这种分类还有什么意义呢?如果垃圾分类处理的整个过程不改革的话,就算有一个环节行得通也还是白费。

Can classification be realized?

It seems that it is impossible to run classification under current circumstances. Dustbins are simply classified as recyclable dustbins and unrecyclable ones. Even if we throw garbage according to these two categories, the two types of garbage bags will be mixed when they are carried away by garbage trucks. Then what sense does this "classification" make? If we don't improve the whole classification progress, only one session working is useless.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

也许降解聚乙烯垃圾袋已经不远了

http://www.china.com.cn/international/txt/2008-07/04/content_15954780.htm

这篇报道也许可以带给我们希望,但收集并处理垃圾袋仍是一项巨大的工程。

Perhaps the degradation of polyethylene plastic bags is not far away

http://www.china.com.cn/international/txt/2008-07/04/content_15954780.htm. Maybe this report is able to give us hope ,however,To collect and dispose of refuse bags is still a huge project.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

倒垃圾筐可行不?

就像最早的时候那样,用实心的垃圾桶,每天倾倒?

Is the trash basket feasible?

Imagining in the old days,we discard rubbish everyday with the solid trash basket ,is it a good idea?