Ecology/ environment consciousness/ sustainability can sometimes be disheartening as with knowledge, we become more and more aware of what needs to be done individually and as a collective. However, every progress must be celebrated and marked. So I thought that I would pause the steps and encourage you; me; us in our road to make our world more harmonious with nature.
You all know my hate for plastic bags which end up polluting our planet; around 8m tonnes of plastic makes its way into just the world’s oceans each year, posing a serious threat to the marine environment. Experts estimate that plastic is eaten by 31 species of marine mammals and more than 100 species of sea birds. How sad is that? Happily, a landmark European Parliament ruling in April 2015 means that all member states must achieve an 80% reduction in polyethylene bag use by 2025. While polyethylene can be recycled, waste collection services vary throughout regions and countries, which leads to confusion. It is estimated that 100 billion plastic carrier bags are used across just Europe per year, with 8 billion ending up as litter. Another reason for banning plastic bags is their fossil fuel burden. Plastic is not only made from petroleum-have a look at my post on how plastic is made-producing it typically requires a lot of fossil-fuel-derived energy. Throwing away plastic grocery bags each year means we are drilling for and importing millions of barrels worth of oil and natural gas for a convenient way to carry home a few groceries. Blehhhhhhh. Ergo, here is some HEARTENING INFO on this count:
DENMARK: A tax on plastic carrier bags was introduced in Denmark in 1994. The tax had a remarkable effect on the use of plastic carrier bags in supermarkets, where customers buy the plastic carrier bags. In clothing and similar shops however, plastic carrier bags are offered free to customers by the shops, who pay the tax themselves. The introduction of the tax halved the consumption from around 800 million bags to 400 million bags, which amounts to around 80 bags per person annually. The retailer revenue has amplified the effects of the tax.
BANGLADESH PLASTIC BAG BAN: In 2002, Bangladesh became the first country in the world to actually ban thinner plastic bags. This strict ban was introduced in 2002 after the occurrence of floods in 1998 where it was estimated that up to 80% of the city’s waterlogging was caused by polyethylene blocking drains. FYI, Bangladesh has an annual rainfall of up to 5 meters and holds the world record for the highest rainfall in a single day. Providing sufficient drainage infrastructure is a major challenge for the Government of Bangladesh and urban flooding is common. Plastic bags clog drains and waterways, threatening urban environments and creating severe safety hazards.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: The Republic of Ireland introduced a €0.15 tax on March 4, 2002. Levied on consumers at the point of sale, this led to 90% of consumers using long-life bags within a year. The tax was increased to €0.22 on July 1, 2007. The revenue is put into an Environment Fund. Hip, Hip Hurray!
RWANDA: In 2004, Rwanda prohibited shops from giving away plastic bags to their customers. The Rwandan government introduced tax breaks that encourage companies to recycle, instead of manufacture, plastic bags — thereby creating a totally new market for environment-friendly bags and as of 2008, non-biodegradable polythene bags are illegal. Eventually, the country is looking to ban other types of plastic and is even hinting at the possibility of becoming the world’s first plastic-free nation. Its constitution recognizes that “every citizen is entitled to a healthy and satisfying environment.” It also underlines each citizen’s responsibility to “protect, safeguard and promote the environment”. I am moving to Kigali!
LUXEMBOURG: Since reusable long-life bags were introduced in Luxembourg on a voluntary basis in 2004, waste from plastic bags has been reduced by around 85%.
ERITRA: Eritrea banned the use of plastic bags on January 2005. Since then, “those who import, produce, distribute or sell plastic bags are fined”, said the head of environment wing in the ministry of land, water and environment.
UGANDA: In 2007, Uganda introduced legislation to ban the sale of lightweight plastic bags under 30µm thick and taxes thicker bags at a punitive rate of 120 percent. However, this was not very successful ergo in mid-April, 2015, the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) banned the use of these popular lightweight bags with immediate effect. The ban covers selling, manufacture and importation.Many retailers at first, did not take it too seriously until mean-looking NEMA officials started knocking on their doors. Brilliant!
BELGIUM: A plastic bag tax was adopted across Belgium on April 27, 2007. Single-use plastic shopping bags will be banned in the Brussels-Capital Region from 1 September 2017, the region’s environment minister, Céline Fremault, has announced. Initially the ban will cover supermarkets before being extended to all retailers in 2018.
BOTSWANA: Botswana introduced a levy on plastic bags that became effective on March 12, 2007. This led to many retailers charging a fee for plastic bags, further discouraging consumers from using them. But this has had many drawback so as of November 25, 2016, The Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, has indicated that the government is planning to ban the use of plastic carrier bags in the country.
CHINA: The State Council, China’s parliament, imposed a ban on June 1, 2008 by prohibiting shops, supermarkets, and sales outlets from providing free plastic bags that are less than 0.025 millimeters thick. The State Administration of Industry and Commerce also threatened to fine shopkeepers and vendors as much as 10,000 yuan (US$1,465) if they were caught distributing free bags. Since the ban was implemented, use of plastic bags has dropped by more than two-thirds, said the Vice chief of energy-saving and environmental protection department under the NDRC, China’s top economic planner. The limit in bag production saved China 1.6 million tons of petroleum, the NDRC estimated.
AUSTRALIA: Although the nation does not ban lightweight bags, the states of South Australia and North Territory along with some cities have independently banned the bag. Coles Bay, Tasmania was the first location in Australia to ban the bag. The introduction of the ‘Zero Waste’ program in South Australia led to its lightweight bag ban in October 2008. The ACT or the Australian Capital Territory banned plastic bags on 1 November 2011. It is estimated that 400 million bags are saved each year.
MEXICO: Mexico fines stores for giving plastic bags to their customers since August 19, 2010. Plastic bags were one of Mexico’s biggest pollution problems.
BRAZIL: A ban was imposed in Sao Paolo state on January 25, 2012.When the law took effect, all grocery stores in the state had to offer customers heavy-duty reusable bags for purchase, biodegradable plastic bags sold at cost for BRL0.19 (US$0.10), or cardboard boxes for free, if the store had them available. Free plastic bags were no longer available. Public statistics show that more than 2.4 billion plastic bags are consumed each month in the state, 90 percent of which end up in the trash. A growing number of smaller cities around the country have embraced similar laws, and a handful of other Brazilian states introduced plastic bag bans in late 2012 that have held firm.
ITALY: In January 2011, Italy banned the distribution of plastic bags that are not from biodegradable sources.
MAURITANIA: In 2013, Mauritania banned the use, manufacture, and import of plastic bags. In this country, plastic bag manufacturers could be jailed for up to a year.
USA: As of July 2014, 20 states and 138 cities & counties across the U.S. had either bans in place or pending, meaning some 20 million U.S citizens are now living in an area where plastic bags are banned. The U.S alone uses 12 million barrels of oil every year to meet plastic bag demand. Every year in the U.S one hundred billion plastic bags are discarded.
UNITED KINGDOM: Ever since England started charging 5p ( about US$0.7) for single-use plastic bags, in October 5, 2015, the number handed out dropped to 500m in the first six months since the charge, compared with 7bn the previous year, as per the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). That is a whopping 85% drop! England was the last part of the UK to adopt the 5p levy, after successful schemes in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Wales began charging 5p for carrier bags on October 1, 2011, and by July 2012, evidence showed the number of plastic bags given away by shops had fallen by up to 96%. Northern Ireland introduced a similar levy in 2013 and Scotland followed in October 20, 2014, and within the first year, retailers showed that single-use carrier bag usage had fallen by more than 80% since the charge was introduced. This has all meant a decrease in millions of bags in circulation.WHOOT WHOOT!
INDIA: The Centre, on March 18, 2016, notified new plastic waste management rules for the country which will be implemented across the country within 6 months.
Under the new rules, carrying certain dos and don’ts for manufacturers, distributors, municipal bodies and panchayats, the government banned the manufacturing of plastic bags of below 50 microns as thinner bags currently pose a major threat to environment due to its non-disposability. Meanwhile Karnataka became the 1st Indian state with a fully comprehensive plastic ban on plastic and all plastic and thermacol products. The state notification makes specific mention that plastic, no matter its thickness, will be banned across the State. The notification cites: “No shopkeeper, vendor, wholesale dealer, retailer, trader, hawker or salesman shall use plastic carry bags, plastic banners, plastic buntings, flex, plastic flags, plastic plates, plastic cups, plastic spoons, cling films and plastic sheets for spreading on dinning table irrespective of thickness including the above items made of thermacol and plastic which use plastic micro beeds.”
The notification also bars manufacturers from producing the aforementioned plastic products, store or supplying or transporting the same. BRAVO KARNATAKA!
GERMANY: Germany’s government has signed an agreement with the retail industry to curb the use of plastic bags as of April 24, 2016. A key part of the plan is getting retailers to stop giving away bags for free. Under this deal, customers in German shops and department stores can expect to pay higher fees for plastic bags from July 1. The change also means that retailers offering free bags will gradually be much harder to find.
FRANCE: After pressure from shoppers, the biggest supermarkets in France imposed a ban on free carrier bags. They now charge between 2p and 42p for reusable bags. This has removed millions of free bags from high streets. The city of Paris adopted a full ban, effective on January 2007. Also, France has recently passed a new law to ensure all plastic cups, cutlery and plates can be composted and are made of biologically-sourced materials. The law, which comes into effect in 2020, is part of the Energy Transition for Green Growth – the same legislation that also outlawed plastic bags in grocery stores and markets beginning in July. Although plastic bags are forbidden in other countries — including in some U.S. states — no country seems to have embraced a plastic ban as sweeping as France’s will be. This is part of an ambitious plan that aims to allow France to make a more effective contribution to tackling climate change. FORMIDABLE!
TANZANIA: The government has issued a notice of intention to impose a total ban on plastic bags by the 1st of January 2017 in another sign that it is determined to enforce the law enacted in 2013 to that effect. The Permanent Secretary in the Vice-President’s Office said in a public notice in August 2016 that the government has provided four-month grace period to owners of plastic bags manufacturing factories to take specific steps by investing in an alternative bags and plastic waste recycling facilities.
Senegal, South Africa, Kenya, Cameroon, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Ethiopia and Malawi are other African countries that have limited the use, adopted or announced bans on the use of plastic shopping bags.
To be honest, despite the wonderful intentions, some of these limits and bans have not been very effective as changing people’s mind takes longer than changing legislation. However, hope is always there and I believe that as people become more aware, this type of environmentally harmful plastic will gradually be phased out. So, KUDOS to all the governments/countries/governments and people who are trying their best for a cleaner environment for us and our children 🙂