The strong tremor this morning caught all of us by surprise.
After several days of very little “felt” ground activity, the rumble at around 11:30 will most likely be yet another excuse to keep our Chengdu tent dwellers outside. Little Flower and I passed them all today on our walk out of the apartment complex and through the small public park that hugs our back side street.
Yes, they are still there. No, these few die-hards don’t seem to be leaving quite yet.
Our neighborhood’s outdoor campers were nothing new for today’s entry into the month of June, but something else in the city was – a fee for plastic bags.
When I first came to China in 1991, a plastic bag (or any grocery-type bag, for that matter) was hard to come by. I used to cherish the ones I had from the States, using them over and over again until they finally broke or smelled so rank that I absolutely was forced to give them up.
With few plastic bags, the Chinese used other means of carrying their shopping things. Going to the open-air market, many of us browsers carried our wicker baskets and put the produce inside. Fresh meat was wrapped in newspaper or nothing at all. The butchers handed over our selected hunks and into our baskets or cloth bags they went with all the rest of our mixed and jumbled produce piles.
China had not yet reached the plastic bag stage in their push for modernization.
But since 2000, bagging groceries or market purchases in plastic bags has become a given. All outdoor market sellers now have them. Street-side sellers likewise have a stash. Even the poorest farmers, in from the countryside to sell their wares, have plastic bags for their customers.
At first, these were cheaply made and often broke. We almost always asked for our things to be double-bagged. But when upscale chain stores such as Carrefore, Wal-mart, Metro and Trust-mart entered China, a stronger variety of plastic bag was introduced. The quality now is much better and one bag will usually do just fine.
Yet old habits die hard. Despite the bag’s excellent quality, every time I went to the grocery or convenience store, my heavier items would automatically be double-bagged by the cashier. Not only that, but small, light things (such as a bar of soap, a package of candy, a small bottle of shampoo) were often placed in their own separate tiny bag and then put inside the larger one. No wonder reports are that this country goes through 3 billion plastic bags a day. I’m certainly proof of that. I’m constantly inundated in plastic bags which I have absolutely no use for aside from lining my trash baskets.
If you can imagine the millions of people in Chengdu, and in cities across China, faced with the same dilemma, you get an idea what a landfill in this country must look like.
But the days of zealous bagging are over.
Today, when I finished my wandering through the aisles of a local convenience store, I was told that my plastic bag would cost 2 mao (1.4 cents) for a small one or 3 mao (2 cents) for the larger. In the nearby international food store, favored by many of us foreigners, the larger bags went for a higher 4 mao (2.8 cents) due to their superior quality and larger size. A carefully printed English sign posted next to the cash register announced this was a government move: either buy a bag or carry yourself.
Out of curiosity, I wondered just which stores were charging for bags and which weren’t. The street sellers, with their fruit or snack carts, weren’t charging. Neither were the many tiny family-run convenience stores I patron. Bakeries, clothes stores, book sellers, tea and other specialty shops were likewise giving their bags for free. Yet not so for the more popular chain stores, such as Wo Wo (similar to a 7-11) and the Hong Hui Supermarket. But I did find that the Hong Hui stores weren’t exactly in agreement on the policy. One Hong Hui I visited gave me the bag for free, saying they’d not been informed about selling bags, while the other, just a block over, made me pay the 1.4 cents.
The question is, will this one or two-penny purchase make a difference in the number of plastic bags being used here in Chengdu?
At the Trust-mart, I positioned myself at the exit to find out. It was interesting to see the number of people who now were carrying their items out the door without having them bagged. Some had their smaller purchases stuffed into their purses while others had a very popular flower-designed green nylon tote overloaded with items.
I stopped one young man and asked him about this green bag. He said these were being sold in the store for 2.5 yuan (35 cents) as an alternative to paying for plastic bags. They were sturdy and big enough to hold a reasonable number of groceries. The nice thing was that people really seemed to be buying them. In 15 minutes, I counted 8 of these greenies going home with customers. I even passed a few more along the street while walking the dog back home. This move by the Trust-mart seems to be a winner. I can only imagine other stores, such as the Wal-mart and Carrefore, having similar bagging options to offer consumers.
Chinese are so good at recycling to begin with that it only makes sense plastic bags should be next on the list. Now maybe my cupboard full of these nuisance items can start to dwindle.
In the meantime, I’m off to the Trust-mart to buy my 35-cent green flowery tote.
Some may think China isn’t my country so why bother following in the footsteps of my neighbors. Just pay the few extra cents every shopping trip and be done with it. But this is our shared world, and while it’s true I’ve often been accused of being the overly independent American, in this case, I’m joining the masses and going green.
From Chengdu, wishing you all an environmentally friendly “Ping An” (Peace)
REMINDER FOR AID IN BUYING TENTS, VACCINES, AND OTHER SUPPLIES FOR EARTHQUAKE RELIEF EFFORTS
United Methodists: UMCOR Advance #982450, International Disaster Response, China Earthquake