China bans plastic bags
The first plastic sandwich bags were introduced in 1957. Although plastic bags didn't come into widespread use until the early 1980s, environmental groups estimate that 500 billion to 1 trillion of the bags are now used worldwide every year.
Imagine a world without plastic shopping bags. It could be the future. There is a growing international movement to ban or discourage the use of plastic bags because of their environmental effects. Critics of the bags say they use up natural resources, consume energy to manufacture, create litter, choke marine life and add to landfill waste.
One of the key concerns is litter. In China, plastic bags blowing around the streets are called "white pollution." In South Africa, the bags are so prominent in the countryside that they have won the derisive title of "national flower."
One of the most dramatic impacts is on marine life. About 100,000 whales, seals, turtles and other marine animals are killed by plastic bags each year worldwide, according to Planet Ark, an international environmental group.
Ireland introduced "PlasTax," a levy of about 20 cents that retail customers have had to pay for each plastic bag since March 2002. The use of plastic bags in Ireland dropped more than 90 percent following imposition of the tax. Similar legislation was introduced in Scotland last month and is being discussed for the rest of the United Kingdom.
In Australia, about 90 percent of retailers have signed up with the government's voluntary program to reduce plastic bag use. A law that went into effect last year in Taiwan requires restaurants, supermarkets and convenience stores to charge customers for plastic bags and utensils. It has resulted in a 69 percent drop in use of plastic products, according to news reports.
China government announced Jan. 8, 2008 that production of ultra-thin plastic bags is banned and using those bags in supermarkets and public transportation are also banned. This rule will take effect by June 1, 2008. China government encouraged people to bring their own cloth bags or baskets when shopping.
Other countries that have banned or taken action to discourage the use of plastic bags include Bangladesh, Italy, and South Africa. Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India, also has banned the bags.
The environmental group Californians Against Waste estimates Americans use 84 billion plastic bags annually. However, US government did not pay attention to this issue. A bill that would have imposed a 3 cent tax on plastic shopping bags and cups was sidelined in the California Legislature last year after heavy opposition from the retail and plastics industries. San Francisco went ahead of other US cities. March 27, 2007, S.F. became the first city to ban plastic shopping bags. Supermarkets and chain pharmacies have to use recyclable or compostable sacks.