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王福重的博客 写给中国人的经济学

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经济学家。1993年在中央财经大学获经济学硕士学位,1998年获博士学位,1999-2001年在北京大学博士后流动站进行研究工作。著有畅销书《人人都爱经济学》,发表学术论文100余篇。是中国世界经济学学会理事。《上海证券报》等多家媒体专栏主笔,凤凰卫视特约评论嘉宾。任何事宜,请通过联系。

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我在中国日报china daily上的文章,2008,6,18  

2008-09-07 16:22:59|  分类: 默认分类 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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People need to accept life without plastic bags(2008-06-19 09:58:16) by  WangFuzhong
    Validfrom June 1, retailers are banned from giving free plastic bags totheir customers. And the production and distribution ofultra-thin plastic bags are alsoprohibited.

  A move to reduce the use of plastic bags as well as the pollutioncaused by these bags, the ban won positive comments from thepublic, the academia and the global community as well.

Some media reports suggest that the use of plastic bags has beensignificantly reduced after the ban. And some have applauded thesatisfactory implementation of the rule.

   Under thisnew rule, costumers have to pay for the plastic bags. In financialsense, it means collecting taxes from their users although themoney is now pocketed by the retailers.

As mentioned above, many may stop using plastic bags for theextra cost on top of their use in supermarkets or shopping mallsbecause they have always got them free of charge.

   However, theminor cost would not be strong enough to change people's choices.It is possible that costumers would accept paying for plastic bagsand the number of these bags will stay at its original level. Afterall, they do not have an alternative as convenient and inexpensiveas plastic bags.

   Admittedly,plastic bags pose threats to the environment: they take hundreds ofyears to degrade and plastic particles from such bags and otherplastic goods contaminate seawater, land, and air throughout theworld.

   But thepopularity of the plastic bag across the world is a choice ofbusinesses, customers and the market for decades. Plastic bags areeasy to clean and carry, they are water-proof and most importantly,inexpensive.

Compared with plastic, bags of other materials, including thosemade of paper and cloth, do not have the same advantages. And theycould also cause environmental problems. Paper is made from trees;papermaking and textile are both industries producing huge amountsof sewage, which might pollute rivers and seas.

   Moreover,paper and cloth bags are not easy to carry around. Convenience isan important element to change consumers' preference, which is whysupermarkets have largely replaced the traditional retailoutlets.

   It is hard toimagine customers walking out of supermarkets or small shops withhands full of grocery items. Nor is it realistic to expect peopletake cloth or paper bags every time they go shopping. Moreover, thecloth bags need to be washed now and then, while the paper bagscannot be used to carry heavy things.

  There is a view that the State banagainst plastic bags goes beyond reducing the number of plasticbags, and actually advocates conservation of resources, naturallifestyle and environmental protection.

  It is true that everyone wishes tolive in a good environment. However, it is also necessary to stressthat economic development, public welfare and environmentalprotection have a complex relationship among themselves.

Most of our manufacturing and consumption, such as papermakingand automobiles, have environmental influences.

  Most people condemn pollutantproducers in ethical terms. But the polluters did not produce justto destroy the environment, but to satisfy the demand of consumers.In a sense, the environment is an indispensable input for economicdevelopment.

  The consumers should also realize thatpollution is inevitable, though the degree differs, when theyrequire the industries to produce certain commodities theyneed.

  A renowned economist said thattolerance to dirtiness is a precondition for getting rich. It istrue. When the economy develops to a relatively high level, peoplebecome less tolerant to environment problems and are more ready topay the costs of protecting environment.

This process is what we call "pollute first and treat later".Definitely, it is not economical, but the experiences from economicdevelopment across the world prove it is hard, or even impossible,to avoid.

  The environment protection has a closerelationship with economic development and it could not go beyondthe latter.

  By now, several developed countrieshave restrictions about production and distribution of plasticbags, but few have the same harsh stipulations as that in China. Dothey not worry about the environment risk of plastic bags? They didnot ban the bags as we did for they found their alternatives mightbe even more costly.

  It is reportedthat the Chinese consumers use 3 billion plastic bags every year,which need 13,000 tons of crude oil to produce. If this oil wassaved from producing plastic bags, how could they be used? As fuelfor automobiles? Is this change less threatening to the environmentor is it more decent in ethical terms? As long as it is spent toboost consumer interests or public welfare, the oil has not beenwasted.

  As a national law, the plastic bag banshould be abided by in metropolises as well as in small towns. Butthe supervision over its full implementation might be difficult. Ifthose violating the rule in cities are punished while those inremote areas are not, it would obviously harm the authority of thelaw.

  Reducing the use of plastic bags is,of course, an environment-friendly move, but it should be carriedout with proper arrangements. It would have been more convenient toconsumers if the ban had been issued after practical alternativesto plastic bags were made easy to get and substantial improvementwas made in recycling plastic bags.

  About two decades ago, it was proposedthat disposable chopsticks should not be used in order to protectthe forests. And several rules and regulations were issued tosupport it. However, disposable chopsticks are everywhere to beseen even now. Let us wait and see whether the plastic bag banwould be better observed.

 

 

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