On June 1, 2008, the Chinese government banned the distribution of free plastic bags in shops. Prior to the ban, an estimated 3 billion plastic bags were distributed daily, generating 3 million tons of waste a year. Although the law is intact, there are still many shops that distribute bags for fear of losing customers and many escape the penalty fine of 10,000 yuan for this infringement. According to the International Food Packaging Association, the number of plastic bags thrown away decreased by 10% one year after the ban. As China makes strides to eliminate everyday usage of plastic bags, grassroots initiatives, such as those by Shanghai Roots & Shoots, can provide assistance at the local level.
The “No Plastic Bags” campaign, an on-going project at Shanghai Roots & Shoots started in 2008, is an initiative that teaches participating schools about the harm that comes from using non-biodegradable plastic bags. During the annual campaign, Roots & Shoots holds presentations to teach children and teachers about the harm of plastic bags on the environment and health, to share statistics on the prevalence of plastic bag use in China, and to offer eco-friendly alternatives that people can use (and reuse) in lieu of plastic. The campaign also distributes reusable cloth bags to every participant and runs a Cloth Bag Design Workshop, in which people are asked to paint images that represent the human role in protecting the natural environment.
Roots & Shoots encourages students to use their personalized cloth bags as much as possible, which also creates visibility for this important cause. Roots & Shoots believes that using reusable cloth bags in public creates “green dialogs” between family members and helps spread a message of environmentalism. In the latest campaign, 34 groups participated in “No Plastic Bags” including schools ranging from primary- to university-level, as well as two residential compounds. Shanghai Roots & Shoots estimates that the campaign has changed the habits of over 12,000 individuals in the last year, and anticipates the reduction of approximately 8 million plastic bags.
Shanghai Roots & Shoots is a division of the Jane Goodall Institute focused on youth-oriented environmental education and community service. Located in Shanghai, China, our mission is to foster respect and compassion for all living things; to promote fruitful exchange between individuals across all cultures and beliefs; and to inspire each individual to take initiative toward making the world a better place. The organization’s focus on young people derives from the basis that young people have the biggest stake in the way the world is shaped. “Kids have more of a vested interest in cleaning up the environment [since] they see that their world could change in a negative way if they don’t change their habits now,” says Roots & Shoots’ Executive Director, Tori Zwisler.