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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

没戏

坚持不了几天,气味也没法处理

It's not feasible!

Few days can be adhered to,and the smell of rubbish is a tough problem

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

减少个人“碳足迹

同意上述观点,关于推广垃圾分类的建议,任重而道远。目前,改变家庭消费习惯,尽量减少垃圾——这是我们首先应该养成的观念。

Reduce personal "carbon footprint"

Agree he view with above,still a long way to go to promote garbage classification method. Now, change the household consumption habits ,and minimize waste---this is the concept we should develop in the first place.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

政府出台政策是不二法门

垃圾的处理问题也好,塑料袋的限制也好,在减轻白色污染问题上走的任何一步路,都不应该单纯是技术这只左脚,或者人民行动这只右脚。我们应该不只是呼吁,而是有一套可行性的限制措施,因为科学普及能够改善人民观念和令其着手行动完全是两码事,而且速度太慢了。政府强制政策的出台是不二法门。但是,替代性产品的生产是其中不可缺少的一环,就犹如木桶理论中的最短的一只木条。但是,淀粉等生物质生产的可降解材料可能发展不大吧。毕竟,粮食安全问题仍然是悬在人民头上的一把利刃。

Mandatory policy is the only way out

When it comes to garbage disposal and banning plastic bags, neither technological application nor public awareness and motivation will work well on its own. We should go further than appealing to the public as to lay out a set of feasible measures to tackle the problem, since fostering public awareness and motivating them into action will take rather long time. Enforcing mandatory policies is the only way out. Whereas the production of replacement products is a necessary supplemental means. But I don’t think starch-based degradable products will be a likely option given the fact that the issue of food security looms large in China.
(Translated by Yang bin)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

政府出台政策也需要民意推动

但是现在看,民间的力量还是太小

the policy-introducing of our administration should gain support from common people

But common people's influence is still quite weak at present.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

普及垃圾分类知识

能否通过一些媒体或电视的公益广告来大力普及垃圾分类知识,让全民在有意无意中接受这种分类知识后在生活的细节中行动起来?

garbage sorting should be popularized

Is it feasible to popularize garbage sorting by mass media, such as TV advertisements and let the whole country accept,consciously or not, the knowledage of garbage sorting and take action in everyday life?

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

进步

塑料垃圾袋将垃圾卫生地装起来,使得我们能够安全、快速地收集它们。哪里有垃圾,哪里就有垃圾袋。如果垃圾被填埋,这些塑料袋无法降解,它们不断向空气中释放甲烷,向地下水中渗出沥出液流。回收垃圾袋意味着使有限的石油资源再生。未来,所有的垃圾都经过水力粉碎,那样我们就可以对塑料回收利用。这是一个进步,但我们任重道远。爱德华(澳大利亚)

Progress

Plastic trash bags keep waste hygienically contained and allow trash to be collected quickly and safely. They remain contained where waste is contained. If waste is buried, the bags do not degrade, releasing methane into air and leachate into groundwater.Making them from recycled plastic means doubling the lifecylce of a limited oil based raw material. In the future, where all waste is hydropulped, plastic can be recovered and reused. It is progress but we have more work to do. Edward from Australia.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

究竟该怎么做?

如果要减少垃圾袋用量的话,对于我们这样的普通居民究竟能做什么?谁能告诉我?垃圾分类肯定没用,最后还是一起弄走了。

How can we prevent bin bags ?

To reduce the bin bags’ use, what should ordinary residents like us do? If someone knows, please tell me. Garbage classification is useless. Even if residents classify garbage, it would still ultimately be taken away indiscriminately by the garbage collectors. (Translated by Michelle Deeter)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

需要一整套处理垃圾的措施

对于家庭、公共场所垃圾分类,我想说,其实民众这边实行并不难。但分类后,到垃圾池又要混起来,所以,分类似乎是白费的。要是有一整套的分类,处理,再利用的有效措施,在加上些经济手段,这样不同垃圾就用不同的容器装,也不用怕垃圾袋满天飞。

A complete set of measures is needed to deal with litter

In the household or in public places, sorting waste, I think, really isn't difficult. After sorting however, the waste will be mixed up again at the garbage dump. Therefore, sorting rubbish seems to be a waste of time. If a complete set of effective measures is set up - including waste sorting, treatment and recycling, which are coupled with certain economic measures - different kinds of waste would be deposited in different garbage containers. That way, garbage bags wouldn't be scattered all over the streets either.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

难难难

真的很难,不管是大垃圾袋还是超市里的免费食品袋还有小菜场的免费小塑料袋都还是威胁环境的每日输出品。另外如果没有法规的严厉执行或是国民素质的跨越性提高,微观的改变是毫无可喜之处的。

Difficult, difficult, difficult

It's really very difficult, no matter if it's a big trash bag or a free supermarket plastic bag, it still a product that threatens the environment daily. Moreover, if strict laws aren't carried out, and the public doesn't become more progressive, then microscopic changes are barely even heartening. (Translated by Michelle Deeter)