Nine years later, China’s plastic-bag ban only looks good in theory


A summary of the top news in Chinese society and culture for June 13, 2017. Part of the daily SupChina news roundup "Anbang confirms billionaire chairman is in trouble."

With the aim of reducing pollution and litter, in June 2008 China enacted a nationwide ban on retailers distributing free plastic bags, as well as the production, sales, and use of ultra-thin plastic bags in general. But nine years later, a group of environmentalists, officials, and even state media are questioning the ban’s effectiveness, according to Sixth Tone.

Many shopkeepers and street vendors are still using thin and flimsy plastic bags, violating the ban without any punishment. At supermarkets and shopping malls, customers can still get plastic bags by paying a fee of around 0.30 yuan ($0.04), and the ban has gradually turned into a profitable business. A commentary (in Chinese), published by People’s Daily on June 12, blames retailers’ pursuit of profits and the difficulty of changing consumer habits for the ban’s failure, and says that the burgeoning food delivery and courier industries are creating new problems.

Online, the ban has also drawn harsh criticism (in Chinese) from internet users, with many calling the ban “such a joke.” On the social media platform Weibo, one commenter wrote, “The decision makers didn’t use their brains in creating the ban, and they never asked the public’s opinions.”

  • Annecy festival drops Chinese film after Chinese government pressure / China Film Insider
    Variety magazine called Liu Jian “a story of gangster-archetype lowlifes, shady opportunists and hired killers, only distinguished from a thousand sub-‘Pulp Fiction’ knockoffs by the specificity of its location in the unlovely, underclass regions of a southern Chinese city and by Liu’s efficient, muted-palette drawing style.” You can watch a clip of the film on YouTube, but you won’t be able to see it at the Annecy festival in France: The film was dropped “after repeated requests from Chinese officials ‘in an increasingly firm tone’ according to the organizers.”
  • Xi Jinping ready for FIFA chief’s curveball / Nikkei Asian Review
    “Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet FIFA President Gianni Infantino in Beijing on Wednesday, as the soccer aficionado dreams of bringing the World Cup to the Middle Kingdom.”
  • China joins U.S. as top influencer in science / Nikkei Asian Review
    “Heavy spending and hunt for talent rapidly raising nation’s profile.”
  • China and the closing of the ivory trade / The New Yorker (paywall)
    “Does the closing of the legal trade in China mean the end of the crisis for Africa’s elephants? Unfortunately, there’s little that’s predictable about the ivory market in China.”