Food delivery services and online shopping become main challenges to China's plastic bag ban


Plastic bags are commonly found in waterways, on beaches, and in other "unofficial" dumping sites across the country. Litter caused by the notorious bags has been referred to as "white pollution".

The State Council, China's chief administrative authority, responded in January 2008 by prohibiting shops, supermarkets and sales outlets from providing free plastic bags that are less than 0.025 millimeters thick.

The State Administration of Industry and Commerce also vowed to fine shopkeepers and vendors as much as 10,000 yuan (US$1,465) if they were caught distributing free plastic bags.

However, observation reveals that there are still small supermarkets and shops that provide free plastic bags for their customers.

The real issue is that the fast development of food delivery services and online shopping in recent years has created a major new source of plastic pollution.

The huge popularity of food delivery services in Chinese cities represents a particular environmental headache. Most of the take-out lunch boxes are made of non-degradable materials, which increases the cost of garbage disposal. According to data presented on the official site of Meituan food delivery, one of the most popular food delivery service apps, at present Meituan's daily volume of orders amounts to 12 million, and its cumulative number of users has reached 200 million. If we assume that each order involves at least one plastic bag and one disposable plastic lunch box, then there are at least 24 million plastic products being consumed every day.

China's online shopping revolution has also pushed up the consumption of plastic bags. Based on statistics by the National Post Department, in 2016 there were about 31.3 billion express deliveries made across the country. This massive volume of deliveries relies upon an enormous number of plastic bags and wrappings, far offsetting any gain made from the ban on free plastic bags in supermarkets.

With regard to it, Song Ruya, member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), suggested earlier this year that the government should impose the plastic bag ban on food delivery services and online shopping and charge extra fees on the two sectors.

"The authorities has responded to my proposal and pledged to put companies and people on an environmentally-friendly track as soon as possible," he said.

People concerned about white pollution gave their suggestions on amendment to the plastic bag ban.

"The key to reducing white pollution holds not on forbidding people from using plastic bags but on guiding them to use the bags correctly," said an unnamed expert. "We can learn from some foreign countries to subsidize merchants or consumers to encourage them to use environmentally-friendly bags."

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