Free plastic bag a big environmental issue
After an initial setback, the city is still planning to end the practice of providing free plastic bags to shoppers in supermarkets.
With the aim of protecting the environment, the issuing of the free bags was supposed to stop at the end of last year but many supermarkets, fearing loss of trade, continued the practice.
The Shanghai Youth Daily reported that the planned reform, in its present form, was not working and that the city's environmental protection bureau had said it would present more efficient measures later this year.
In November last year, the bureau said that from the beginning of 2004, all supermarkets in the city would sell plastic shopping bags to consumers instead of providing free ones.
A survey via the Internet at that time showed that about 90 per cent of residents supported the idea, bolstering the confidence of both the bureau and retailers that the reform would work. But three months later, not one supermarket is enforcing the change and charging shoppers for plastic bags.
As one of the 90 per cent who had expressed support last November, a foreign-invested supermarket on Luoxiu Lu was the first to enforce the measure. It stopped providing free bags last December and the number of customers dropped dramatically. Less than one week later, the supermarket cancelled the new measure.
"The 90 per cent figure of support is just lip service. The situation is so different when you actually have to pay money," a staff member said.
Some supermarkets have come up with a "good idea" that would please both consumers and the government - the environmental plastic bag.
But sources with the environmental protection department said such bags would decompose into small pieces after long burial and would still pollute nearby land and water resources.
The number of plastic bags used in the city is amazing. The Lianhua Supermarket Co Ltd purchases 390 million plastic bags of various sizes every year. Hualian Supermarket consumes 6 million bags in a year.
The recycle value of these shopping bags is very low. In addition, they produce more pollution if disposed of by fire.
In fact, consumers ought to pay less for their shopping if they have to pay for shopping bags because retailers have factored the cost of the free bags into their price-setting.
Sources with the bureau said they would try to reach agreement with retailers "at a suitable time" this year to end the issuing of free plastic bags and to charge shoppers for them.
Supermarkets in many other countries charge customers for shopping bags, to good environmental effect. For example, in South Korea the consumption of plastic bags was cut by 63 per cent a year after the measure was introduced. Xiao Min