Many people in B.C. like to consider themselves green -- but our province and our country have been shown up by an unlikely environmental champion: China.

The country known for its swelling economy, 1.3 billion people, and notorious for its pollution, banned thin, flimsy plastic bags from stores on Sunday.

That's all the more reason Vancouver should be embarrassed at being unable to make a decision on whether to ban the bags or not, environmentalists say.

"It's quite amazing that a country like China that's not known for its environmental record can beat us to the punch in something as significant as reducing plastic bags," said Susan Howatt of the Sierra Club of B.C.

"It's to our shame -- perhaps we need to be shamed in behaving better," she said.

In China, 3 billion plastic bags were being put in the dumpsters every day -- about 1.6 million tons of the items each year -- and have been blamed for filling landfills and choking marine life.

On Sunday, the Chinese government moved to reverse some of the damage of the modernization and industrialization by enforcing an order that if Chinese citizens want to use a plastic bag, they have to pay for a sturdy one.

Retailers will face a fine of 10,000 Yuan ($1,500) for providing shoppers with free bags.

French supermarket Carrefour has ordered cloth bags that it will sell for 4.9 Yuan ($0.70) each, while Wal-Mart will sell cloth bags from 1.9 Yuan to 9.9 Yuan each ($0.27 to $1.40).

It's not yet clear how successful China will be when enforcing the bans.

China's decision was made swiftly by its centralized, totalitarian government, but Metro Vancouver's democratically elected board says it will continue debating until it reaches consensus.

"If we did the same thing as China... we want to make sure that whatever legislation is well laid-out and we know exactly what we're going to replace the plastic bag with," said Metro Vancouver chair Lois Jackson.

The board hopes to have a decision by September, she said.

In the meantime, the plastic bags keep coming, said Howatt.

"In Canada, we take home about 200 plastic bags per person every year," said Howatt. "It's not a huge shift for us to transition into something like cloth or reusable [bags.]

"If China can do it, so can we," she said.

With files from The Associated Press and CTV British Columbia's Shannon Paterson