Mary O'Loughlin

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environmental regulation, China, pollution


On June 1, 2008, the Chinese government enacted a nationwide policy prohibiting all stores from freely distributing plastic bags to customers. This new policy requires that, henceforth, all retailers must charge a nominal fee for plastic bags and that those purchasable bags must meet certain quality requirements to improve their potential reusability. These retailers, which include everything from grocery and clothing stores to farmer’s markets and food stalls, individually determine how much to charge for their bags and get to keep all related proceeds. The policy is an effort to mitigate the “white pollution” that is choking China’s landscape, as well as to preserve valuable resources such as oil. Currently, the Chinese population uses up to 3 billion plastic bags each day, which consume 37 million barrels of crude oil each year in production. Moreover, plastic bags take up to 1,000 years to break down, producing toxic petro-polymers and occupying valuable landfill space in the process.

Unlike past environmental regulations in China, which typically targeted specific business sectors or polluter types, this policy directly affects everyone nationwide and requires that every individual take economic and environmental responsibility for his plastic bag use. For China, using this type of individualized policy approach to confront an environmental challenge is novel, creative, and—if successful—potentially prescient of a new Chinese approach to fighting the battle against pollution.


18 Buffalo Environmental Law Journal (2011).


Environmental Law

Recommended Citation

18 Buffalo Environmental Law Journal (2011).