文章 Articles

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.

Article image

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

Now more than ever…

chinadialogue is at the heart of the battle for truth on climate change and its challenges at this critical time.

Our readers are valued by us and now, for the first time, we are asking for your support to help maintain the rigorous, honest reporting and analysis on climate change that you value in a 'post-truth' era.

Support chinadialogue

发表评论 Post a comment

评论通过管理员审核后翻译成中文或英文。 最大字符 1200。

Comments are translated into either Chinese or English after being moderated. Maximum characters 1200.

评论 comments

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



It's not feasible!

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

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



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



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



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



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




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



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



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



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)