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The European Union looks at banning plastic bags

7/5/2011

 

Although plastic carrier bags, such as HDPE bags used for groceries, are recyclable, the size and lightness of the bags allow many to escape the waste management stream. An estimated 500 metric tonnes (over a million pounds) of plastic debris float in the Mediterranean, causing havoc to the marine environment.

 

The Commission notes that the average European uses around 500 bags a year. Citizens in European countries that have already instituted a tax on plastic bags, however, use much fewer bags. For example, Ireland introduced a levy on plastic bag in 2002, which quickly reduced plastic bag use from an estimated 328 per person to 21 - a whopping 94% decrease.

 

In addition to a possible tax or ban, the European Commission also wants to improve requirements for labeling bags as biodegradable or  compostable. They define biodegradable bags as bags that degrade naturally in the environment, as opposed to compostable bags that only decompose in industrial composting facilities. But such distinction could still be misleading. As noted in an earlier article on plastic waste, biodegradable bags don’t really biodegrade - they merely break down into tiny plastic fragments that continue to persist in the environment for a long time.

 

Of course an outright ban on plastic grocery bags may have unintended consequences. After all, if plastic grocery bags were banned, what would we use to pick up dog poop?

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