Bags_2 The country of China isn't exactly known for being environmentally progressive.  (I know, who are we to talk?  But still.)

So I was surprised when I read that China is banning the production of ultra-thin shopping bags and forcing customers to pay for the bags if they use them.

Flimsy plastic bags are becoming a hugely troubling environmental issue. Because they're so thin, they're often only used by consumers once (and probably just for the half-hour it takes to drive home from the grocery store). After that, they get thrown away, where they either overwhelm landfills or just blow away, creating even more problems.

Last spring, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to ban these bags. Neighboring Oakland followed a few months later.

In China (maybe unsurprisingly), the ban is particularly harsh:

The bags also are banned from all public transportation, including buses, trains and planes and from airports and scenic locations, the government said.

Companies caught breaking the new rules face fines and possible forfeiture of goods, the government said.

It can be easy to dimiss earth-friendly legislation out of the Bay Area. But with China's ban, I bet more and more U.S. cities -- and maybe even states? -- will be exploring similar regulations. Bag bans are the new smoking bans! You heard it hear first.

*UPDATE: New York City leaders yesterday passed a bill requiring retail merchants to collect plastic bags and recycle them. According to the Times , "New York is by far the largest American city to enact so broad a measure to limit the environmental impact of the bags. "