Assuming you’re a fairly average person (not to accuse of you of dull normality, dear reader!) you will have used roughly 200 plastic bags by the end of 2014 and – 89 percent of the time – you will have thrown these bags away after just one use. Obviously, some of you are out there cycling to the local organic store with your reusable hemp bags; Constantin, for example, says he tries at all times to be aware of his impact on the environment and avoids using plastic bags as much as possible. But should anything be done to try and change the behaviour of the rest of us?

In 2011, Italy tried to introduce a law banning plastic bags completely. The move followed studies suggesting that 73 percent of waste on the sea bed along the Italian coastline was made up of plastic bags, and that Italy was consuming 25 percent of all such bags used and produced in the EU (incredibly, the average Italian was using twice as many plastic bags as most Europeans). But the ban was blocked by the British government, which claimed it would be illegal under EU law.

However, new measures proposed by the European Commission would oblige Member States to cut plastic bag usage by 80%, allowing them to choose from a list of ways to achieve this including plastic bag taxes and outright bans. Should these measures be adopted across the EU?

To get a response, we spoke to Margrete Auken, a Danish MEP who sits with the group of  Greens and was rapporteur of a report on the Commission’s proposals (recently voted on and approved by the European Parliament’s Environment Committee). What would she say?

aukenI’m strongly in favour of getting rid of as many plastic bags as possible. Every year, 100 billion plastic bags are used by Europeans, and 8 or 9 billion plastic bags end up in nature as pollution, damaging animals, birds and fish. This number should be reduced dramatically.

Therefore, what we have now decided to do is have a target of an 80% reduction of plastic bag use across the whole EU within 3 to 5 years. And the most effective means of achieving this will be to have shops start charging for their plastic bags. If we do that, people quickly start reusing their plastic bags instead of getting new ones. So, we have proposed that this should be mandatory in the foodstuff sector, including supermarkets and so on.

Finally, we also asked for a reaction from Kriton Arsenis, a Greek MEP who sits with the  Social Democrats in the European Parliament and is particularly active on environmental and green issues. What did he think?

Do YOU re-use bags or do you throw them away? Should EU Member States aim to cut plastic bag usage by 80% over the next 5 years? Should there be a plastic bag tax or an outright ban? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.

Vote 2014

Voting is closed in our Debating Europe Vote 2014! The results are now in, so come and see what our readers thought!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Tony J Case

54 comments Post a commentcomment

  1. avatar

    Absolutely. I’m 101% in.

  2. avatar
    Nando Aidos

    We recycle them and try not to use them. we always carry a reusable bag for our shopping. We also refuse paper bags.
    There should be a cost to the user and to the supplier. An ecology cost. Banning is a way, but I am in favor of passing the cost to whomever has the benefit. In the case of plastic bags, add up all the wild life plastic bag recovery costs, all the street cleaning costs, all the plastic bag recycling costs, and pass them as a tax to the manufacturer who will then pass them as a cost to the user in a very clear line item.
    Like: product price – xxx, plastic bag cost – yyyy. Then apply a fine for violators.

  3. avatar
    Artur Domagała

    plastic bags shud be baned. In UK now we need pay for plastic bags. In every shops we can buy ecological and stronger bags poss for using long time. I have only such bags. In boot of my car I have big plastic box that I dont need use bags at all when I do shopping in big markets. THINK BOUT IT!!

  4. avatar
    William Burton

    I don’t think they should be banned but just charge per bag as many supermarkets are already doing, but in all shops and supermarkets. This could be in the form of the ‘plastic bag tax’ mentioned. They are too convenient and useful to be banned outright.

  5. avatar
    Arjan Tupan

    This might certainly help. However, there are more ways to achieve the goal of no more plastic waste in nature. One could be to make single-use bags from compostable materials. Or to introduce a mandatory small fee for single-use bags.
    Personally, I try to avoid single-use bags as much as possible. And if I get them, I always try to reuse them in one way, even if as a garbage-bag.
    What I think is also important, is to ensure that people understand how bad it is, and ensure alternatives. Look at how and why people use single-use bags, and see how their requirements can be dealt with in another way.
    The problem of a law to reduce, and offer a limited set of options, means that innovative new ways that could work better, might not be allowed to use.

    • avatar

      So do I. I’m definitely 100% in favor of banning those single use plastic bags. This will dramatically reduce the environmental impact of plastics. Shops should offer reusable canvas bags and charge people for them. That way people will also learn to appreciate the value of a bag. It will also push people into a more sustainable way of living. We have to get away from this throw away culture to ensure a safe future for our children.

  6. avatar
    Karel Van Isacker

    The cheap one time usage bags in shops should be banned while the multi-use ones should become obligatory. Those are also stronger and can be used 100s of times.

  7. avatar
    Stefania Portici

    in Italia i sacchetti sono di mais cioe’ biodegradabili e quelli in plastica ( rari) si buttano nel cestino del riciclaggio plastica.

  8. avatar

    Ethylene, the base of plastic bags is in fact russian gas. That’s say it all.

  9. avatar
    Jaume Roqueta

    what if we start by banning all the products that dont respect human rights… I mean, that products that if where made in UE would be illegal, but if are made in other countries are legal!

  10. avatar
    Paul X

    Better still ban plastic packaging on fruit etc in supermarkets. Currently most fruit or veg either comes pre-packed in plastic or the supermarkets provide little bags to put it in.
    So when someone leaves the store with their shopping they have a plastic bag full of smaller plastic bags with the produce in, why does it need two layers of plastic?

    • avatar

      I agree, but to start off with it seems easier to get rid of the bags first. If you go for a walk in Glasgow you’ll see a lot of litter everywhere. Among that I’ve seen lots of single use plastic bags, bottles and cans but hardly any grocery plastic packaging (maybe that is also because people don’t eat that healthily over here!)

  11. avatar
    Jaroslav Kuna

    Though I am principally against bans, in this case it would and it does make sense. Due to the consequences of a plastic bag. Multiplied by millions.

  12. avatar
    Christos Mouzeviris

    Yeap!! In Ireland they start charging for them, so people started using reusable bags to go shopping.. It worked just fine!! Once you get into the habit you keep bringing your bag with you and after work you stop at the super market to do your shopping.. It is a great idea and it has reduced the amount of plastic bag use drastically.. It should be applied everywhere in Europe and beyond!!

  13. avatar

    It depends, I’m afraid that the russian gas will still produce plastic bags and we (Europe’s people) will be charged a “plastic tax” fee to “reduce” the so called “imported raw material”. In this circumstance I’m nothing but a dissapointed tax payer. I’m willing to pay zero euro for “reducing” plastic bags usage at large scale. Nice try anyway.

  14. avatar
    Guillem Martí Bou

    I am pro-EU, but EU, should start to leave the: “We’ll Ban (or regulate) everything actitude”. At last Farage will be right…..

  15. avatar

    At second or third thought, I sure want no plastic bags but I’m also sure that I don’t want more expensive replacements. Let me think, hmmm… paper – woods, cotton – under age overworked kids, BINGO ! – Hemp !

  16. avatar

    Most people use the plastic bags they get from their shopping to line their bins, so no, it really makes little difference. Ban them and people will just buy the same plastic to line their bins in a role.

  17. avatar

    Yes, definitely. That should be a must. What’s the point of having plastic bags when we could, as well, use the paper ones. Not only we protect our environment, but also we will decrease the bags usage. So, it’s a win for everyone!

  18. avatar
    Tarquin Farquhar

    Make plastic bags recyclable AND convert same to fuel/oil as has been done in the UK.

  19. avatar

    I believe that taxing plastic bags would be beneficial for both reduction of plastig bag consumption and would bring some money to the state budget. This tax would represent around 50% of the price in the first year and it would increase every year. Also, I would impose an additional tax on supermarkets who try to give free bags with an additional 50%.

  20. avatar
    Alex Bell

    You need to ban low quality bags, because if they get damaged right away they can’t be reused. So make standards that make a bag hardy.

  21. avatar
    George Zachos

    I can imagine a number of ways to achieve the goal of no more plastic waste in nature.

    1. Look at how and why people use single-use bags, and see how their requirements can be dealt with in another way.
    2. Use of single-use bags from compostable materials.
    3. Introduce a mandatory small fee for single-use bags.
    4. Avoid single-use bags as much as possible.
    5. Reuse them even as a garbage-bag.
    6. Ensure that people understand how bad it is, and ensure alternatives etc.

  22. avatar
    Richard Osborne

    I would think that right now we have more important things to worry about than plastic bags. . . Ukraine for instance. Member states economies, the Syrian conflict. The Ebola outbreak. Illegal immigrants and that’s just to name a few

  23. avatar
    Daniele Scaramelli

    I was travelling and missing the people posting irrelevant comments that miss the point by a million miles. The Ebola outbreak? What has this to do with the topic of plastic bags? By the way, Ebola killed 1640 people in 40 years. Illegal immigrants: you mean the British getting drunk on Greek islands?

  24. avatar
    Tarquin Farquhar

    @Daniele Scaramelli
    I was travelling and missing the people posting irrelevant comments that miss the point by a million miles. The British getting drunk on Greek islands? What has this to do with the topic of plastic bags?

    • avatar
      Paul X

      I can only assume he is referring to the plastic bags full of British holidaymakers cash that the Greek bar owners take to the bank?

  25. avatar
    eusebio manuel vestias pecurto

    Sim a UE deve proibir os sacos de Plasticos não faz sentido nenhum que em muitos estados da UE não tenham contribuido com politicas de inovação na area do ambiente Sim a Europa deve proibir os sacos de plasticos

  26. avatar
    Vladan Lausevic

    Yes on the ban. Europe can do better and start using green alternatives instead.

  27. avatar
    Limbidis Arian

    While not very stylish, HEMP bags are way stronger and spacious.
    I have some and still use them 5 years after i bought them.

    Why not use those?
    Re-usable, ecological, etc

  28. avatar

    Yes, and while their at it , ban the euro. Save the planet from plastic bags and euroextremists in one go.
    Sounds like a plan to me.

  29. avatar

    Yes, it should.
    I think there are many alternatives more sustainable than plastic bags. Maybe now population think is a difficult aim to get , but in the future we will see weird the use of plastic bags in the past.

  30. avatar

    Absolutely. But don’t forget about plastic bottles. Recycle glass bottles instead!

    • avatar
      vivek singh

      Great idea

  31. avatar

    EU should ban plastic bags, totally. We can carry our products with cloth bags, like our grandmothers in the past.

  32. avatar

    This is a question of nudging or shoving the public in a direction. A charge would be a nudge but 80% reduction over 5 years may require more of a shove, for example an outright ban. I’m of the opinion that you can change the ‘norm’ and people quickly adjust and I’m behind the ban to achieve the goals set.

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