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Ban on Ultra-thin Plastic Bags Draws Mixed Reaction

China is banning the use of ultra-thin plastic bags, or those thinner than 0.025 millimeters, from Sunday in a bid to reduce energy consumption and polluting emissions. However, Chinese shoppers may need a while to adjust to the new rule.

"It is a 'habit revolution,'" an official with the Ministry of Commerce, Men Xiaowei, said in an on-line interview. "It will no doubt bring some inconveniences. However, to limit the use of plastic bags is to protect our entire environment."

In addition to banning ultra-thin plastic bags, retailers will no longer provide free plastic bags. Customers are being encouraged to carry their own baskets or bags.

"The plastic waste accounted for more than 3 to 5 percent of the daily waste, most of which was plastic bags," Men said.

China's retailers, including supermarkets, department stores and grocery stores, use more than 1.6 million tons of plastic each year. About one ton of plastic can be derived from more than three tons of oil.

Although bags were said to be degradable, "only a small portion of plastic bags could be thoroughly degraded," said Li Jing, an official with the National Development and Reform Commission, China's top economic planner. "These bags are usually more expensive."

In consideration of food safety and sanitation, bags which are used to pack food, such as raw meat and noodles, are still free.

Men also said retailers were not likely to make money by selling plastic bags. "On the contrary, they worried about losing customers by charging too much for one bag."

To date, giant retailers such as Wal-Mart have not decided how much they would charge for the bags.

(Xinhua News Agency May 30, 2008)

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