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2021-06-04 10:39:18

Shanghai’s market regulators have fined a local business for using single-use plastic straws in a first-of-its-kind punishment, as the country seeks to eliminate plastic pollution.

The unnamed bakery in the city’s Minhang District was fined 10,000 yuan ($1,560) after being caught providing non-biodegradable, disposable plastic straws to customers, even though the city has banned their use, the Shanghai Municipal Administration for Market Regulation said Thursday. Local inspectors discovered the shop was using the straws — made from non-biodegradable polypropylene — during an unannounced inspection.

The fine is the first in China since market regulators took on the responsibility of issuing administrative punishments in accordance with China’s solid waste law. Violators could face a penalty of up to 100,000 yuan according to the law, which was amended in 2020.

China is the world’s largest plastic producer and consumer. However, improperly disposed plastic waste has polluted the country’s water bodies, with such materials accounting for over 92% of the trash found at the bottom of the oceans claimed by China.

To curb plastic pollution, China intensified its campaign against plastic waste in January 2020, implementing a nationwide ban on non-biodegradable, single-use plastic straws starting this year. The country plans to gradually phase out other disposable plastic products by the end of 2025.

With new laws and increasing environmental awareness, many businesses have started offering sustainable alternatives to plastic.

Wang Mimi, owner of the restaurant chain Rac in Shanghai, told Sixth Tone that her restaurants and café started adopting paper straws in 2019, after “hearing sustainable advocates talk about the danger of plastics.” However, she added that some customers had a difficult time adapting to paper straws until the utensils were officially banned in the city.

“While paper straws do have the problem of dissolving and breaking easily, it’s the best option cost-wise compared with alternatives like bamboo or PLA straws,” Wang said, referring to straws made with biodegradable ingredients. “We might consider switching to those alternatives when there’s a lower cost burden.”

Meanwhile, the central government has also been proactive in promoting biodegradable plastics as alternatives. Experts say companies have already laid the groundwork for manufacturing such products, though high costs, recycling requirements, and the need for specialized waste facilities have limited their popularity.

“Degradable does not mean that it can be degraded,” Wang Jun, professor of packaging engineering at Jiangnan University, told Sixth Tone last year while commenting on China’s “biodegradable rush” to combat plastic pollution. “Polylactic acid can be degraded, but it must be recycled to compost to degrade,” said Wang Jun, “From my perspective, the best option is to recycle and reuse.”

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: People Visual)