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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.

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



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



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



then who will do the rubbish sorting?

it is difficult for a household to do the sorting.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



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



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



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



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



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




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



Is the trash basket feasible?

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