10 Years on from the Ban on Free Plastic Bags

https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/tt_KNGqs4KlPIQZo4Agk7A

中文 English

On the 31st of May 2018, the Zero Waste Alliance(零废弃联盟), a civil society organization that has long concerned itself with waste issues in China, held a conference in Beijing to publish their newest research results on the effect of the “restriction on plastic bags” that was implemented in China 10 years ago.

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Photo by Wen Tianping. Taken in January 2011 at a dumping site in Xingtai.

On the 31st of December 2007, after considering the harm that disposable plastic bags do to the environment, on top of the fact that “super-thin plastic bags” create white pollution and are not easy to reuse due to how thin they are, the General Office of the State Council released the “General Office of the State Council’s declaration on limiting the production, sale and use of plastic shopping bags for retail purposes” (国务院办公厅关于限制生产销售使用塑料购物袋的通知), to be implemented from the 1st of June 2008. This declaration, and the laws and regulations that followed, introduced the following restrictions on the production and sale of disposable plastic bags: a ban on the production, retail and use of any plastic bag under the thickness of 0.025mm; a requirement that the bags have to carry a notice on them stating nine items, including the material the bag is made of, an environmental notice and the production unit; and a requirement to set up a system of payment for the provision of plastic bags in retail establishments.

In order to truly understand how the restrictions are being implemented on the ground in different areas, the Zero Waste Alliance teamed up with civil society organisations and volunteers in nine different cities to assess the situation in Beijing, Shenzhen, Shenyang, Hefei, Luoyang, Ningbo, Leping in Jiangxi, Rongxia in Sichuan and Fuyang in Anhui. They surveyed 1101 retailers, 979 of which provide plastic bags.

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Photo by Zhang Huiying. A dumping site in Anhui in 2010, in which plastic has taken up a large proportion of the waste.

Out of the retailers that provide plastic bags, it was found that most violate the regulations and provide them without charge. The rate of charging for plastic bags was only 17%, most of which was concentrated within large-scale supermarkets or nation-wide convenience store franchises; the rate for smaller shops was only around 10%. Furthermore, the proportion of retailers using plastic bags which do not conform to regulations stood at 78%. These include those that do not have notices on the bags or only have incomplete ones, and those whose bags are of a thickness that does not meet the standards. Only 89 shops, around 9.1% of the retailers surveyed, fulfilled all the requirements and charged for the plastic bags. On top of this only 36 retailers, 3.7% of the total, were able to achieve all three requirements for correct notices, correct thickness and charging for plastic bags, and also clearly state the charge for the plastic bag on the customers’ receipts, something which is also required to comply with the national restriction.

Further analysis of the research found that even though the rate of large supermarkets and convenience store franchises charging for plastic bags is comparatively high, these two types of store provide over 16% more disposable packaging, such as plastic films and bags for fruit and vegetables, than average. The Zero Waste Alliance policy director, Xie Xinyuan, says: “Large scale supermarkets and national convenience store franchises use a lot of other plastic wrapping to substitute for the restricted use of plastic bags, which is not in line with the original intention of the national restriction to reduce white pollution.”

Internet shopping and food delivery platforms gained momentum only after the release of the restrictions, and can be considered a grey area. Whether they should be subjected to the regulations is unclear. The report also looked at food delivery retailers and platforms, and taking 23 businesses that use plastic bags it was found that up to 96% of the bags they use do not comply with regulations. The main problem is that the notices on the bags were incomplete; furthermore, there was not one business that charged for plastic bags and added it to the customer’s receipt. If it is supposed to fall within the scope of the national restrictions, then the status of the food delivery industry is very worrying, not to mention the amount of plastic packaging they are also using everyday.

When it comes to notices on plastic bags not being in line with regulations, consumer knowledge is comparatively low and the fact that 78% of retailers do not comply is also worrying. Research has found that plastic bags without notices are often of low quality, posing safety risks and environmental hazards. The report also looks into online retailers of plastic bags, and it finds that nearly 80% of plastic bag retailers openly sell plastic bags without notices or plastic bags that do not comply with the standards; violations of the regulations by non-online plastic bag retailers are also common. “Even though these retailers obviously violate the national restrictions, the ‘product quality law’, the ‘requirements for disposable plastic bags for environment, safety and notices’ and other such laws and regulations, when volunteers report them to the online platforms, they will receive a reply simply stating that ‘this report of a violation of national standards is unfounded'”, explains the Zero Waste Alliance’s general secretary Tian Qian. “In this case, we will take further action”.

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During the conference over 300 plastic bags collected during the research, including those with complete, incomplete or missing notices, were displayed.

At the end of the conference, the Zero Waste Alliance made the following recommendations for the future regarding the restrictions on plastic bags:

– Elevate the “restriction on plastic bags” to administrative law, amend penalties with corresponding punishments, increase fines, and require retailers to clearly state the reporting hotline for the violation of the plastic limits declaration to facilitate public supervision.

– Eradicate the production, sale and use of all plastic bags that violate the regulations. Law enforcement departments such as the the quality inspection units should strengthen their enforcement of the ban on the irregular production, online and offline sale and use of plastic bags, and crack-down on unregulated plastic bags.

– The method of charging for plastic bags should shift from the retailers imposing the charge themselves to the charge being levied at the production level. Plastic bags should become a taxable pollutant, or producers should pay fees to a specialised plastic bag pollution prevention fund.

– Clarify the aims of the “restriction on plastic bags”, fully consider limitations on other plastic packaging, encourage the use of reusable carriers. The take-out industry should be brought under the scope of the limitations, take-out platforms should take responsibility for plastic bags used by the restaurants on their platforms to comply with regulations and the appropriate departments should increase their vigilance.

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Photo courtesy of Aifen (爱芬环保). Residents at the Jinyang Community pose for the camera with their vegetable baskets.

Other than this, at the conference the Zero Waste Alliance and the Shanghai Ai Fen Environmental Protection jointly introduced the “Hello, food basket – 2018 one million plastic bag reduction” initiative, targeting the problem of use of plastic bags at vegetable markets and supermarkets, calling for 10.000 people or households to take on the challenge and reduce the use of plastic bags by a million, using fruit and vegetable baskets, cloth bags and other suitable alternatives to reduce dependency on plastic bags and develop better environmental habits. Through the promotion of large scale practices and extensive publicity and dissemination to promote larger social awareness and participation, this initiative will bring a more practical solution to China’s plastic waste issue. The initiative has also support from the One Foundation and the Yiqifen Community Plan.

This is how Xie Xinyuan, policy director of the Zero Waste Alliance, summarizes things: “This year happens to be the tenth anniversary of the national restrictions on plastic bags. Ten years ago the introduction of the restrictions carried some significance: on the one hand it educated the general public on the impact of the problem of plastic waste, and on the other hand it increased public awareness of environmental issues, elevating it to a national commitment. But our research has found that with the passage of time, apart from the dedicated commitment of large supermarkets and convenience store franchises to the restrictions, a large proportion of retailers have not been implementing the regulations.”

“When facing the next ten years, the plastic pollutant problem will be even more prominent and the challenge even bigger. Other than the suggestions made above, we hope that in the next ten years the restrictions don’t solely focus on plastic bags but turn into an even larger policy including disposable plastic packaging. At the same time, so-called “degradable plastics” should not be turned into a solution. The government and general public can also find ways, like the food basket initiative, to reuse carrier items in order to achieve the target of reducing plastic waste.”

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2018年5月31日,在我国限塑令施行十周年之际,长期关注垃圾问题的社会组织零废弃联盟在北京发布了《限塑令十周年—商家执行情况调研报告》。

2007年12月31日,考虑到一次性使用的塑料袋对环境的危害和超薄塑料袋因为过轻过薄容易造成白色污染且不易重复使用的问题,国务院办公厅下发了《国务院办公厅关于限制生产销售使用塑料购物袋的通知》,并于2008年6月1日正式实施。此通知和随后出台的相关法律法规对于生产和销售塑料袋的环节作出了如下规定:禁止生产,销售和使用厚度小于0.025毫米的塑料购物袋,袋身需含有包括材质,环保声明和生产单位在内的9项信息的标识,和在零售场所实行塑料袋有偿使用制度。

为摸清限塑令在各地的执行情况,零废弃联盟联合9个市区县的社会组织及志愿者,对北京、深圳、沈阳、合肥、洛阳、宁波、江西乐平、四川荣县、安徽阜阳三合镇九地1101家线下商品零售场所进行了调研,其中有979家门店提供塑料购物袋。

在提供塑料袋的门店中,大部分零售商店违反限塑令免费提供塑料袋,收费率只有17%,且主要集中在大型超市和全国连锁便利店,其他类型门店的收费率仅一成左右。另外,使用不合规塑料袋的店铺,高达78%,包括塑料袋无标识或标识不全,塑料袋厚度不符合规范;而仅89家,即9.1%的门店能做到塑料袋合规且实行收费。同时做到塑料袋标识合规、厚度达标、收费三项,且明码标价和列入消费凭证,亦即遵守“限塑令”所有规定的,只有36家,仅占3.7%。

报告进一步分析发现,尽管大型超市和全国连锁便利店的收费率和合格率较高,但这两类门店提供平口袋、保鲜膜等其他塑料膜类包装的比例远高于16%的平均比例。零废弃联盟政策主任谢新源说,“这意味着大型超市和全国连锁便利店在很大程度上用其他塑料包装替代了受限塑令约束的提携式塑料购物袋,这并不符合限塑令制定的初衷——减少“白色”污染。”

互联网+外卖是“限塑令”实行后才强势崛起的行业,也是“限塑令”执行中的灰色地带,是否纳入限塑令执行对象,并不明确。此次《报告》也对外卖商家和外卖平台进行了初步调研,在23个使用塑料袋的外卖商家中,发现高达96%的外卖商家使用的是不合规塑料袋,主要问题是塑料袋标识不完整,而且没有一个商家明确显示塑料袋收费并纳入消费凭证。如果它已被列入限塑令范围,外卖行业的执行情况堪忧。

对于塑料袋标识不合规的问题,消费者的认知较低,零售场所78%的不合规率也令人担忧。通过调研发现,没有标识的塑料袋通常是不合格的劣质塑料袋,存在安全隐患和环境危害。《报告》对线上平台销售的塑料袋也进行了调查,发现接近80%的塑料袋专卖商公开售卖无标识或厚度不达标的违规塑料袋;线下塑料袋专卖店出售违规塑料袋也很普遍。“尽管这些商户明显违反了’限塑令’、《产品质量法》、《塑料购物袋的环保、安全和标识通用技术要求》等条例,但志愿者向线上销售平台进行举报时,平台给出的回复却是’违反国家标准举报不成立’。”零废弃联盟秘书长田倩说,“对此我们将采取进一步行动。”

在报告和发布会最后,零废弃联盟对于限塑的推进提出了以下建议:

  • 将“限塑令”升级为行政法规,罚则条款上应改为“并罚”,并增加罚款金额,要求商户收银处应明确标识违反限塑令的举报电话,便于公众监督。
  • 在生产、销售、使用环节全面杜绝违规塑料袋,质检工商等执法部门应加强生产、线上线下销售、使用违规塑料袋的专项执法行动,严厉打击不合规塑料袋。
  • 塑料袋收费方式从商家自行加价收费,变为从生产环节收费——将塑料袋列为环境保护税的应税污染物,或由生产者向专门的塑料袋污染防治基金缴费。
  • 重新厘清“限塑令”目标,全面考虑对其他塑料膜类包装的限制,鼓励在可重复使用的提携方案上进行创新。五、外卖行业应列入限塑令管制范围,外卖平台应该对外卖塑料袋合规性负责,且有关部门需要加强监督。

此外,研讨会现场,零废弃联盟和上海爱芬环保共同发起“你好,菜篮子—2018百万减塑行动”计划,针对菜市场、超市购物时,大量使用塑料袋的问题,召集1万个家庭/个人挑战减少一百万个塑料袋,使用菜篮子、布袋子等作为替代品,降低对塑料袋的依赖,养成更环保的生活习惯。通过推动大规模的实践和行动,及广泛的宣传和传播,引发更广泛的社会关注和反思,并为我国应对塑料垃圾问题提供实践案例。而该计划也获得了壹基金联合公益和壹起分社区计划的支持。

“今年刚好是限塑令十周年,十年前'限塑令'的出台无疑是有重要意义的:一方面将塑料垃圾问题显性化,对于广大公众起到了宣传教育作用;另一方面,把社会对环境问题的关注上升为国家意志。但随着时间推移,除了大型超市和全国连锁便利店对‘限塑令’执行情况维持较好之外,我们的调研发现大多数商品零售场所已经疏于执行。面对下一个十年,现在的塑料污染问题更为突出,挑战也更大。除了上述提及的建议,我们还希望下一个十年的‘限塑令’不能仅着眼于塑料袋,而应变成针对一次性塑料包装的一揽子政策,同时也要避免将所谓的‘可降解塑料’作为解决方案,政府民间也可多摸索出类似菜篮子这样利用可重复使用提携方式进行减塑的行动方案,才能使得塑料垃圾减量目标真正实现。”零盟政策主任谢新源说。

Translated by Luxia Broadbent

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