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Shoppers getting to grips with bags ban

STANDING at the cashier's counter, both hands full of goods she bought in Carrefour, Zhao Shaojuan realized she had forgotten to bring a bag with her.

Just a year before, she would have got a free plastic bag.

The 66-year-old Zhao still finds it hard to remember to take a bag when she goes shopping. "But I will try to bring a bag next time," the retired teacher said.

On the other hand, Chen Gang, a 30-year-old office worker, said he now always takes a bag when he goes to supermarkets.

On June 1, 2008, China banned supermarkets, shops and open markets supplying free plastic bags to customers, in a drive to protect the environment and cut waste.

So what has happened in the past year?

Statistics from the National Development and Reform Commission show that the 106 outlets of Wal-Mart China had reduced plastic bag usage by 80 percent.

The number of plastic bags used in supermarkets had dropped by 40 billion, or 66 percent, said the NDRC.

Xie Zhenhua, NDRC deputy director, said all the plastic bags saved in one year were the equivalent of 1.6 million tons of petroleum.

He said plastic bags took about 200 years to decompose and greatly contaminated soil and water sources.

If they ended up in rivers and seas, they could lead to the deaths of fish, animals and plants.

However, some shopkeepers in open markets and communal groceries still provide free plastic bags, for fear that otherwise no customer will patronize their business.

For Zhan Nan, a cashier in Wal-Mart, it is easy to live without plastic bags.

"People may feel it inconvenient at first, but they will become used to living without plastic bags, it's just a problem of habit."

Supermarkets such as Carrefour and Wal-Mart have encouraged customers to use reusable shopping bags, which hang above every cashier's counter.

The plastic bag ban is only a part of the government drive for environmental protection, which has included developing clean energy and lowering carbon emissions.

China has allocated 21 million yuan (US$3 million) of its 4 trillion yuan economic stimulus package into energy saving and ecological construction.

The State Administration of Industry and Commerce issued a regulation that any shopkeeper who provides free plastic bags to customers will face a 10,000 yuan fine.

It's hard work trying to persuade 1.3 billion people to give up plastic bags, said Shi Pengxiang, a project manager with Greenpeace China.

"But more important, we have made a start," said Shi.


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