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EU-wide plastic bag ban divides opinion

Experts are warning that proposals for an EU-wide ban on plastic carrier bags should be based on evidence and not simply political pressure. A ban may form part of proposals to be unveiled next month by the European Commission in its green paper on plastic waste. Many in the plastics industry fear that the document may bow to public opinion expressed in a recent consultation, in which 70% of respondents voted for an outright ban.

In the UK, an e-petition launched very recently to banish plastic bags has already attracted some 650 signatures and is backed by a number of high-profile figures. If the petition reaches 100,000 signatures, it will secure a debate in the House of Commons.

Many industry pundits argue that a ban will lead to an increase in use of alternatives to plastic bags, many of which are more damaging to the environment. Paper bags, for example, use the same amount of oil to make as a plastic bag, but are considerably bulkier to transport, adding to transport miles and increasing carbon footprint. It is also feared that banning single-use carrier bags will lead to people buying plastic bags ā€“ instead of simply reusing their grocery bags ā€“ for their compost, kitchen refuse and dog waste. Long-life bags such as cotton shoppers need to be used a number of times before they have a lower environmental impact, so it is a question of changing peopleā€™s behaviour.

Most retailers object to a ban, preferring a voluntary approach as in France, Germany, Portugal, Hungary and the Netherlands, where retailers have begun charging for plastic bags voluntarily. Italy implemented Europe’s first outright ban on non-biodegradable plastic bags at the beginning of 2011. Denmark, Ireland and Bulgaria charge a plastic bag tax, while Belgium applies a fee that goes straight to a plastics recycling firm.

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