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Chinese plastic bag maker closes in waste-reduction drive

Associated Press
China’s largest producer of plastic bags said Tuesday it has closed, more than a month after the government announced a ban on stores handing out free bags in an effort to clean up the environment.

Huaqiang factory, in central Henan province, closed at the beginning of February, said a woman who answered the telephone at the factory. All 10,000 workers at the factory were sent home, said the woman, who gave only her family name, Hai, as is common in China.

Last month, China announced a ban on stores handing out free plastic shopping bags in a bid to cut waste and conserve resources.
(26 February 2008)

Getting a handle on the plastic problem
How different countries are dealing with the problem

Georgina Smith, Guardian
The campaign against plastic bags has been gathering steam in the UK, while China recently announced that it would ban the use of some bags and force consumers to pay for others. But how are other countries tackling the problem?
There is an old Chinese expression: if you want to correct something that others do, you should first correct it yourself. It’s an expression the Chinese government can claim it is following in its efforts to tackle one of the country’s most significant litter problems: the plastic bag.

The issue of flimsy plastic bags may seem trivial on the list of environmental challenges facing one of the world’s emerging superpowers, but its ramifications are more than aesthetic. Discarded plastic bags disrupt waterways, clog sewers, and choke soil.

So, as one of its new year’s resolutions, China has pledged to put a stop to its 3bn-a-day habit, and ban the use of free and flimsy plastic bags by introducing levies. As of June this year, plastic bags must be paid for, and they will be banned from all public transport, airports and scenic places.

Plastic is fantastic. It’s versatile, durable, waterproof, convenient and very, very cheap. But with all benefits of plastic bags come a long list of nagging problems, and the most problematic of all is their sheer persistence.

Depending on the thickness, plastic bags take between 20 and 1,000 years to break down in the environment. They release toxic gases when they burn; they create stagnant pools which can become a breeding ground for malarial mosquitoes; and they suffocate or disrupt the indigestion of animals that accidentally consume them.

So, how easy is it to regulate a blanket ban on something so integral – yet so destructive – to modern living? And does it work?
(23 February 2008)
The Guardian site has a section devoted to “plastic bags.”

Haul aboard
Seas awash with rubbish

Chris Baker, Guardian
The discovery of large amounts of microplastic in remote seas suggests marine pollution is at worse levels than previously thought

When the crew of the Greenpeace ship Esperanza last year pulled in its 1-metre-net from the surface of the Atlantic about 200 miles south-east of the Azores, it was surprised only by the quantity of what it found.

Washing around in the net were nearly 700 minuscule and unidentifiable fragments of plastic; 57 pieces of synthetic fishing line and leftover strands from dumped nets and rope; a handful of flakes from old plastic bags, including one with a zip-type seal still attached; and a dozen so-called nurdles – white pellets, looking like grains of rice, which are the raw material of the packaging industry. All this microplastic had been collected in just four nautical miles.
(27 February 2008)

Human Shadows on the Seas

Andrew C. Revkin, New York Times
Just a few weeks later, on an uninhabited island in a remote part of the Red Sea, I was proved wrong. The shore above the tide line was covered with old light bulbs, apparently tossed from the endless parade of ships over the years.

Now scientists are building the first worldwide portrait of such dispersed human impacts on the oceans, revealing a planet-spanning mix of depleted resources, degraded ecosystems and disruptive biological blending as species are moved around the globe by accident and intent.

A paper in the Feb. 15 issue of the journal Science is the first effort to map 17 kinds of human ocean impacts like organic pollution, including agricultural runoff and sewage; damage from bottom-scraping trawls; and intensive traditional fishing along coral reefs.
(26 February 2008)