Beijing has promised to hold a green Olympic Games this summer, giving extra impetus to a number of environmental policies and projects. Officials have vowed to cut down on the "white pollution" of discarded bags that choke China's cities, farms and waterways.
The China Plastics Processing Industry Association estimates the measure will reduce the amount of plastic bags used by a third from 1.6 million tons a year. The Chinese now use 3 billion bags every day, according to the group, and they are virtually indestructible, taking years to break down and commonly ending up in China's clogged landfills.
Yu Chuanjing, a college student interning at an investment company in Beijing, said he didn't have the discipline to change his habits alone.
"Of course, there'll be trouble at the beginning, but it is a good policy in the long run," Yu said while buying onions at a grocery store. "It is everyone's duty to protect the environment."
Sun Peng, a project manager for a company that makes circuit boards, said at a fruit and vegetable roadside store that the measure is mainly for the Olympics and it will be important to see what happens afterward.
"It will be inconvenient, no question about it," he said.
"But we advocated for a green games, didn't we? We can't have plastic bags everywhere."
Under the rules, businesses nationwide will be prohibited from manufacturing, selling or using bags less than 0.00098 inches thick, according to the order issued by the State Council, China's Cabinet. More durable plastic bags will still be permitted for sale by markets and shops.
Owners of local fruit stalls and supermarkets said the measure would not affect their business, as they mostly only plan to charge a couple of cents for plastic bags.
Paris-based supermarket Carrefour, China's biggest retailer, said it would charge 2 to 14 cents for the plastic bags. It also sells cloth bags.
A similar ban in Ireland cut the number of bags used by 90 percent, according to Waste Watch, a UK-based environmental non profit group. Several African nations have set thickness requirements that have effectively banned the flimsy thin bags that float in the air.