China is taking action to curb plastic bag litter. Soon, free shopping bags will be a thing of the past, as Claudia Blume reports from VOA's Asia News Center in Hong Kong.

Starting June 1, shoppers in China will have to pay for plastic bags. Under new government rules, the production of ultra-thin bags will be banned and their use in supermarkets forbidden. Shops can still use more durable plastic bags, but will be required to charge shoppers for them.

A government Web site is calling on shoppers to turn to cloth bags and shopping baskets to reduce the use of plastic.

Chinese consumers have gotten used to free plastic shopping bags since they were introduced in the country a little more than a decade ago. They now use an enormous number - about 3 billion bags on average a day - which are later taking up landfills, clogging waterways and creating litter.

Environmental groups welcome the new measures. Yu Xin, a spokesman for Greenpeace in Beijing, says what is particularly positive is that they involve public participation.  He says people suffer from China's huge environmental problems every day, from dirty air to tainted drinking water, but they often do not realize that they can help reduce the problem.

"This is going to be challenging people to change their lifestyle a little bit in during their daily life," he said.  "For example they can start with stop using plastic bags, use less disposable chopsticks, or they can change to energy-efficient light bulbs and they can go [on] more public transportation and so on.  So we think the thing is positive news."

Only a handful of governments in the world have banned free plastic bags. In Asia, Taiwan and Bangladesh have imposed bans. And Hong Kong and Australia are considering measures to curb plastic bag litter.