China's supermarket industry spends five billion yuan on shopping bags and packing boxes each year. The financial and environmental costs are tremendous. Now some supermarkets in the southwestern city of Kunming City have begun to charge for plastic bags, but response has been lukewarm.
For the day's shopping, this customer wants raw food, cooked food, snacks and daily necessities bagged separately. That means eight plastic bags. And this is not usual in such a big supermarket.
Cashier Li Min said:"Our supermarket uses some 20,000 plastic bags a day, costing over three thousand yuan. The monthly cost is nearly 100,000 yuan. The supermarket pays for it."
The bags are putting a huge strain on the environment.
This landfill in the western suburbs of Kunming handles over one thousand tons of municipal waste every day. Plastic bags are the biggest headache.
Shi Xuedong of Kunming EP Bureau said:"The environmental impact of the plastic bags is obvious. We can often see them flying around. And the worst part of it is plastic bags break down very slowly. They can harden the soil and slow the growth of plants and crops."
Environmental authorities in Kunming now require manufacturers to produce bio-degradable plastic bags.
But even such bags pollute before breaking down.
And encouraging customers to bring baskets or cloth bags has been difficult.
Metro has found one way out. It's been charging for plastic bags since it entered China a decade ago. And it's the only supermarket in Kunming to do so despite mixed reviews.
I can accept it. It's environment-friendly.
It's good for the environment, but not convenient enough for consumers.
I don't like it. All the other supermarkets offer free bags. Why does this one charge?
Sentiments like that have made other supermarkets hesitate to follow suit.
Li Hongmei of Minsheng supermarket said:"It's definitely a good thing if all stores and supermarkets carry out the same policy. But if only a few do this, it will affect their sales."
Apparently it's not easy to spread Metro's practice across the city, the province, and the whole country.
The battle to save the environment is not going to be won at the check-out line, but in the hearts and minds of the public.