Don’t expect to hear “paper or plastic?” in Beijing this summer. As of June, China is the latest country to impose a ban or tax on plastic bags, a movement that has spread in recent years to prevent the nonbiodegradable bags from clogging landfills, blocking drains and choking wildlife. Here’s who’s joined the worldwide ban club:

France: (2007) Paris bans plastic bags in large stores; a nationwide restriction is slated for 2010.

Ireland: (2002) The country introduces a consumer “PlasTax” of 15 cents per plastic bag. Consumption dropped by 94 percent; within a year, tax raises $9.6 million for environmental initiatives. 

Denmark: (1994) Imposes tax on plastic bags. Consumption declines 66 percent, and tax revenue (paid by retailers) goes toward environmental projects.

China: (2008) Bans production of ultra-thin bags and forbids stores to distribute plastic bags for free. Prior to the June ban, the country used about 3 billion plastic bags each day.

Taiwan: (2001) Bans thin plastic bags and sees a 77 percent drop in use over three years. Department and convenience stores must charge for bags.

United States: (2007) San Francisco bans petroleum-based bags in large grocery and drug stores — the first law of its kind in the U.S. Before the ban, 180 million plastic shopping bags were distributed in San Francisco each year. The measure will conserve an estimated 430,000 gallons of oil.

South Africa: (2003) Bans ultra-thin plastic bags and taxes thicker ones. Subsequently, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda introduce their own total or partial bans.

India: (2003) Cities of Mumbai and Delhi, along with Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, and Maharashtra states, each introduce total or partial bans to prevent flooding.

Bangladesh: (2002) Bans plastic bags in its capital, Dhaka, labeling them a culprit in recent floods. Country sees a revival in its jute bag industry.

Australia: (2008) Announces plan to phase out distribution of free plastic bags by year’s end. Major retail chains had already voluntarily cut plastic bag use by 45 percent between 2003 and 2005. 

Story by Julia Ross. This article originally appeared in Plenty in July 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008