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?
I’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.