BEIJING - China has saved 24 billion plastic bags since it introduced a ban three years ago on merchants giving them away, the National Development and Reform Commission has said.
The use of plastic bags in supermarkets has dropped by two-thirds since the ban began on June 1, 2008, Li Jing, deputy director of the Department of Resource Conservation and Environmental Protection under the commission, was quoted as saying on Friday by Xinhua News Agency.
"We saved 600,000 tons of plastic through the reduction of 24 billion shopping bags, the equivalent of conserving 3.6 million tons of oil or 5 million tons of standard coal and a reduction of more than 10 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions," Li said.
But she also conceded that the ban met with some problems, such as a lack of supervision, of substitutes for plastic bags and of public awareness of limiting the use of disposable bags. Besides, the ban has never been strictly observed in outdoor markets.
For example, 69.4 percent of retailers - excluding chain supermarkets - provided free plastic bags to shoppers in Zhengzhou, capital of Henan province, according to a survey released in December 2010. One-third of them said they feared losing customers if they did not give away bags.
The survey, of 340 small and medium-sized retailers, was conducted by an NGO named EnviroFriends Institutes of Environmental Science and Technology.
It also found that the ban had gradually lost its effect, because the usage rate of plastic bags that supermarkets sold to customers in 2010 had dropped from last year's in three cities - Hangzhou of East China's Zhejiang province, Zhengzhou of Central China's Henan province and Harbin of Northeast China's Heilongjiang province.
In Hangzhou, the usage rate dropped to 91 percent in 2010 from 94.34 percent in 2009, in Zhengzhou to 56.5 percent from 78.1 percent and in Harbin to 64 percent from 72.73 percent, the survey found.
In an effort to further cut plastic bag use, China is considering a ban on free plastic bags in restaurants, hospitals and bookshops, an official from the Ministry of Commerce said.
But the ministry is still doing research on expanding the ban and will seek public feedback, said Li Jiajian, an official with the Department of Commercial Service Administration of the ministry.
"It would be better to enhance the implementation of the current ban in the outdoor markets first. Governments should develop more substitutes for disposable bags and severely penalize shops that violate the ban," Li Bo, a member of EnviroFriends Institutes of Environmental Science and Technology told China Daily.
In the past three years, no supermarkets or shopkeepers were punished for giving free plastic bags, according to Li.