Stricter plastics rules for shoppers

Li Anlan
One of the first changes Shanghai residents are coping with since the first day of 2021 is to gradually reduce the use of plastics in their daily routines.
Li Anlan
Stricter plastics rules for shoppers

Shanghai has banned the use of plastic bags and straws in shops and restaurants since the start of 2021.

One of the first changes Shanghai residents are coping with since the first day of 2021 is to gradually reduce the use of plastics in their daily routines, whether it’s a plastic straw to enjoy a soda in fast food restaurants, or a plastic bag to hold all the groceries.

The new regulations are very strict. Disposable plastics bags, degradable or not, are now banned in all supermarkets, shops and malls. Restaurants are not allowed to provide non-degradable plastic straws and tableware, including cutlery and food containers.

For food deliveries, especially grocery deliveries that must use disposable plastic bags, the bags should be degradable, and that’s why major grocery delivery services including Freshippo and Aldi have opted for a new kind of plastic bag that’s light yellow and softer compared with their old non-disposable bags.

The change is more obvious for supermarkets. They are now selling cloth and paper bags, which are much more expensive than the plastic bags they used to offer at 0.5 yuan each.

“I carry large canvas bags or tote bags on a daily basis because I need to take many things on the go, so I don’t need to worry much about the ban on plastic bags in supermarkets when I’m doing some light shopping after work, but I’m planning to put a spare foldable cloth bag in my bag in case I need to buy more things, and the paper straws and new cup lids also take some time to get used to as the straws do break easily when they’re placed in liquid for longer time,” said Yolanda Wang, an office worker who occasionally shops in supermarkets.

While the plastic bags regulations are strict, the plastic bags used for fresh vegetables, fruit and meat are not banned in supermarkets, since these fresh products usually come in bunches, wet or muddy on the surface and not exactly suitable for carrying directly.

Major restaurant chains have reduced the use of plastics and fast food restaurants are no longer providing plastic straws, instead they’re using paper straws or drinkable lids.

It’s taking smaller, individual restaurants a little longer to replace all their takeout containers with ones that are degradable, but they are embracing the new policies and many are already making the effort to offer degradable cutlery.

Stricter plastics rules for shoppers
Li Anlan / SHINE

Supermarkets across Shanghai have stopped offering plastic bags free starting from January 1. They are now selling reusable bags as an alternative for shoppers who haven’t brought their own grocery bags.

Cutting down on plastics

Carrying a reusable bag, whether it’s cloth or non-woven fabric, is the No. 1 option if you are looking to curb plastic waste in your daily life.

Canvas totes which are reusable, light and trendy are perfect for grocery shopping as well as daily life, and there’s also the trick of selecting the bags. The canvas material of the bags can vary depending on price and design, and those with rougher surfaces can harm the clothes and make the surface of your sweaters, coats and sweatshirts coarse. Canvas totes with softer, fluffy material are more suited for fall and winter seasons.

Foldable shopping bags come in all shapes, sizes and colors, they are usually designed to be carried inside daily bags and many are resistant to water and oil. It’s an ideal solution to the plastic bag ban, but people will often forget about putting one in their purse.

If carrying a spare foldable bag takes too much space in smaller handbags, a more compact solution is to reuse degradable plastic bags by folding them neatly into a small square no larger than a powder compact. These light yellow and soft bags are quite durable and can be used many times if you avoid sharp objects. They also have a nice feel and no annoying sound of rubbing plastic.

Many people already have reusable shopping bags at home, but realize that they’ve forgotten to bring them when they reach the checkout, and are forever buying new bags, plastic or the expensive reusable ones. To solve this problem, you can either place a stash of bags by the front door where it can be seen every time you leave the house, or leave one in each of your purses and remember to put them back after unloading the purchased items.

Stricter plastics rules for shoppers

Cutlery and food containers made of degradable materials such as paper. 

Bulking up is another solution to reduce the use of plastic bags, but it may also lead to unnecessary food waste and the storage of dried foods needs extra attention.

The trick of recycling the good plastics, like bags and containers, also reduces the use of plastics and helps the environment. But plastic water bottles aren’t very suitable to be reused and filled up with water.

To take a further step in reducing plastic waste, some people are carrying their own reusable containers to the market when buying food such as tofu, noodles, deli items and pickles, so that the vendors no longer need to pack them in bags. This also saves the step of relocating the food from bags to containers at home. Cloth produce bags are not only plastic-free, but they’re also sturdier to hold ingredients such as apples, pears and root vegetables, and can be machine washed as well.

For food containers, it’s not necessary to replace all your plastic ones with sustainable products immediately since it’s still a big waste, but when you are buying new ones, it’s more environmentally friendly to choose glass or metal ones, which are also more suitable for handling food items such as grains, nuts and flour.

When you are heading to a big feast in a restaurant, it may be wise to bring a couple of food containers in case there’s a need to box the leftovers. It saves money and the environment at the same time.

Carrying a travel mug or water bottle at all times is a great way to reduce single-use plastic or paper cups, plus many cafés offer a discount for those who bring their own. The reusable bottles come in different sizes, and some are very portable, like the collapsible Stojo cup that also comes with a straw.

To cope with the absence of plastic straws and when paper ones feel too soggy, you can bring your own reusable straws. There are some made of bamboo, glass and metal, which can be cleaned and used multiple times. Packing a straw doesn’t take much space in your bag, and it also saves a few paper straws.

While the metal straws are strongest and most durable, they can have a metallic taste and smell and feel very cold in the winter season, and some people with sensitive teeth may find them unpleasant.

Also a great way to save disposable cutlery is by keeping a set in the office, and save sealable sandwich bags by replacing them with special reusable silicone pouches.

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