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What do you give a plastic-bag ban for its fifth birthday?

In the case of China, which over the weekend celebrated five years of restrictions on plastic shopping bags, officials are showering their ban with accolades and crediting it with keeping tens of billions of bags out of landfills and the environment.

The rules, which took effect on June 1, 2008, ban the manufacture or use of the thinnest types of plastic bags. They also prohibit supermarkets, department stores, and grocery stores from giving away thicker varieties, requiring them to charge customers for the bags.

From Shanghai Daily:

A plastic bag ban launched five years ago has cut consumption by at least 67 billion bags, saving an equivalent of 6 million tonnes of oil, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) said Friday.

Since the ban was implemented, use of plastic bags has dropped by more than two-thirds, said Li Jing, vice chief of energy-saving and environmental protection department under the NDRC, China’s top economic planner.

But the English-language website of China News Service points to a study that shows there’s still lots of room for improvement:

[T]he regulation has not been carried out effectively and super-thin bags are still being used, even at large supermarkets, according to a report by the International Food Packaging Association on Thursday to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the regulation.

The organization surveyed 10 chain supermarkets, 10 open-air markets and three wholesale markets as well as roadside stalls, and discovered that supermarkets have done much better than the others in following the regulation.

All supermarkets provided plastic bags for a fee, but only four supermarkets, including Wal-Mart, provided bags equivalent to or thicker than [the required] 0.025 mm, the report said.

In contrast, it added, all open-air and wholesale markets and roadside stalls provided plastic bags for free, and only one out of the 10 open-air markets provided plastic bags thicker than 0.025 mm.

Some Chinese retailers may be ignoring the bag ban, but at least the country is doing better than the U.S. at tackling the problem.

San Francisco became the first American city to impose similar restrictions, in 2007, and a few other U.S. cities and counties have followed in its footsteps, but no plastic-bag rules exist at the federal level. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) has introduced a bill that would impose a five-cent fee on all disposable bags, but it’s about as likely to pass as plastic through a seabird’s intestinal system.