China's government is to ban shops from giving out free plastic bags and has called on consumers to use baskets and cloth sacks instead to reduce environmental pollution.
Beginning on June 1, all supermarkets, department stores and shops will be forbidden from giving out free plastic bags, the China Daily newspaper and the State Council said.
Stores must clearly mark the price of plastic shopping bags and are banned from adding that price onto products.
The production, sale and use of ultra-thin plastic bags, those less than 0.025 millimeters (0.00098 inches) thick, is also to be banned, according the State Council notice.
The regulation, dated 31 December 2007 and posted on a government web site on Tuesday, calls for "a return to cloth bags and shopping baskets to reduce the use of plastic bags".
The regulation also urges waste collectors to step up recycling efforts to reduce the amount of bags burned or buried and tells finance authorities to consider tax measures to discourage plastic bag production and sale.
The regulation comes approximately 15 years after shopkeepers started handing out cheap, flimsy plastic bags to customers.
But "white pollution" - a reference to the colour of many of the bags - has overwhelmed landfills and become a constant eyesore.
The unexpected announcement of the regulation comes as Beijing steps up efforts to fight the pollution that has accompanied China's rapid economic growth.
Factories and plants churn out low-cost products for the world's consumers, but have also severely fouled the country's air and water.
Despite the government initiative, some residents of the capital told AP Television on Wednesday that hey were reluctant to adopt the change.
"I'll just have to spend more (to buy plastic bags). I can't have them with me all the time, right?," one man said.
However, one shop vendor told AP she did not see the new regulation as causing that much of a problem.
"My business shouldn't be affected by the policy as long as plastic bags are cheap. We all have environmental awareness," she said.
Internationally, legislation to discourage plastic bag use has been passed in parts of South Africa, Ireland and Taiwan, where authorities either tax shoppers who use them or impose fees on companies that distribute them.
Bangladesh already bans them, as do at least 30 remote Alaskan villages.
Last year, San Francisco became the first US city to ban petroleum-based plastic grocery bags.