Why plastic bags limitation didn’t work in China?

From the last lecture, we learned that Ireland made a huge success with a plastic bags tax. the Department of Environment Secretary General said in 2014 that the levy has led to a 95% reduction in plastic bag use. Ireland is not an individual case. If you google “plastic bags + reduce”, there are other countries who have benefited from this policy. Based on the news posted on Feb. 16th, although a small proportion of citizens started to take own bags to supermarket since 2008 (plastic bags are forced to charge wherever in markets, retail stores or shopping mall since 2008. Before 2008, plastic bags are totally free for customers), China didn’t get an ideal or good result with the limit of plastic bags (its plastic consumptions still accounted for 15% of the world and a large amount of citizens still use plastic bags everyday).


Photo: http://www.mvtimes.com/2016/01/26/plastic-bag-ban-information-session/

The question is why?

Supermarkets should be the first one to blame. Why should I say that? After the limitation of plastic bags, who could be the beneficiary? Yes, that’s supermarket. With the charge of plastic bags, supermarkets could get extra millions dollars (Plastic bags are completely free for consumers in the past. The charge for plastic bags is not only tax, but also profit). Although supermarkets do provide recycled bags for customers, they still provide as many plastic bags as before nominally to meet the need of consumers, actually for their own profit. So how to fix this problem? Considering the reality, it is not a good choice to completely ban the plastic bags right now. So from my perspective, government should officially increase the price of plastic bags and decrease the price of recycled bags, and supermarket should gradually reduce the usage of plastic bags. Through this method, the gap between plastic bags and recycled bags are getting shorter. So when consumers need to buy a bag for shopping, they may more likely to consider recycled bags compared to the similar prices. But how could we nudge supermarket to reduce the usage of plastic bags? I suggest that local government could lower the tax of recycled bags and increase the tax of plastic bags. In this way, as the request of interest, supermarket have to make a green change by themselves.

It is not enough to just consider supermarket’s problem. It is also of great importance to improve the environmental awareness of citizens. I know this sentence sounds like unrealistic slogan. But we do need to improve the environmental awareness completely. Previously, I would think the best way is education. But for now, I would think the most effective method is education under “disaster”. When did government and citizens both seriously consider environment problems? The last time I remembered is the famous Beijing Smog. In that kind of condition, people would spend more time on environment and even hold some discussions and listen to some environmental lectures. So more public environmental education could be carried out at this time through governments or universities. Taking the current urban situations of major cities into account, such smog and haze has been a relatively common situation. That means it is a good timing to do the education now.


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