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EU Plastic Bag Debate Highlights a Wider Global Problem

Soulskill posted about 5 months ago | from the that's-why-i-use-disposable-cloth-bags dept.

Earth 470

jones_supa writes "An EU citizen uses around 200 plastic bags per year. That's too much, says the EU. But wasting plastic bags is not just a European problem. Countries around the world are struggling with the issue, and it especially affects growing economies such as Asia. Some Southeast Asian countries don't even have the proper infrastructure in place to dispose of the bags properly. The problems for the environment are many. Plastic bags usually take several hundred years until they decay, thereby filling landfills, while animals often mistake the plastic for food and choke to death. Additionally they are a major cause of seaborne pollution, which is a serious hazard for marine life. This autumn, EU started ambitious plans which aim to reduce usage 80% by 2017. Some countries have already applied measures to slow plastic bag use: England has added a 5p charge to previously free bags, and in Ireland the government has already imposed a tax of 22 euro cents ($0.29) per plastic bag. The EU Environment Commissioner, Janez Potonik, said, 'We're taking action to solve a very serious and highly visible environmental problem.'"

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470 comments

England (5, Informative)

biodata (1981610) | about 5 months ago | (#45537079)

In England the government has said that a 5p charge will come in 2015 AFTER THE NEXT ELECTION. Too early to count chickens.

Re:England (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45537117)

Supermarkets already charge for plastic bags in England.

Re:England (3, Informative)

Chrisq (894406) | about 5 months ago | (#45537143)

Supermarkets already charge for plastic bags in England.

Some do, mostly "low cost" stores - not Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury's or any of the major supermarkets I know of

Re:England (0)

somersault (912633) | about 5 months ago | (#45537199)

Marks and Spencers do.

It is a bit weird if you think about it, to just keep using plastic bags when you could take your own. I wonder who started the whole deal.

I have 2 reusable bags, but I almost always forget to take them with me anywhere. I used one last week, but that was the first time in months. Keeping one in the car would probably be a good start.

Re:England (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45537251)

Pretty sure it would help most if they found a way to encourage shopping by bike. You don't generally take plastic bags when biking because they rip. You use a backpack.

Re:England (4, Funny)

Chrisq (894406) | about 5 months ago | (#45537271)

I have 2 reusable bags, but I almost always forget to take them with me anywhere. I used one last week, but that was the first time in months.

Its not just me then. The thing is I have about 20 reusable bags - I keep buying one to keep in the car .... take it into the house full of groceries and there it stays.

Re:England (3, Interesting)

somersault (912633) | about 5 months ago | (#45537361)

Someone posted Tim Minchin's Canvas Bags [youtube.com] song below. I've added it into my current work music playlist - hopefully its catchy message will become etched into my brain, and somehow force me to change my habits :p

Re:England (4, Interesting)

Saethan (2725367) | about 5 months ago | (#45537405)

Only problem with keeping them in a car is they tend to be alive [foodsafetynews.com]. If you're going to use reusable bags, please wash them. BTW, what the heck happened to paper bags? Those decompose pretty quick.

This issue isn't so black and white (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) | about 5 months ago | (#45537461)

Some do, mostly "low cost" stores

And if you look at the places that have introduced the charge, such as M&S, many have adopted a "small bag is free, full size bags are charged" policy as well, presumably in response to negative feedback from customers.

Some other curious data points on this issue, which isn't nearly as black-and-white as it might seem:

For one thing, it turns out that lots of people do "recycle" those "disposable" plastic bags. When Ireland introduced a tax on plastic bags, bin liner purchases increased by 400% [theguardian.com].

For another thing, while plastic bags are more environmentally unfriendly than paper bags when discarded, they are more efficient to transport in large numbers, and in practice that inefficiency translates rather directly into increased pollution, greater consumption of non-renewable fuel types for vehicles, and so on. The facts about resources used and pollution generated in manufacture aren't entirely one-sided either.

If the government really wanted to help the environment, they could politely encourage supermarkets to start selling the actually good reusable plastic bags that at least Sainsbury's and Tesco had a few years ago, which were much larger and tougher than the jokes they sell as reusable today (OK, you can reuse them, maybe two or three times before they fall apart). These actually seemed to be quite popular at the time, and we still use some of ours many years later, but the supermarkets that had them all switched to a different and much inferior type after a relatively short time; I don't know why.

In addition, far more environmental good would be done if the government slapped a significant tax on all packaging materials at the source, so that using excessive or unnecessary packaging carried a direct financial penalty. This step alone would almost certainly cut the volume of environmentally unfriendly waste -- meaning waste that can't be recycled or otherwise dealt with other than sending it to landfill -- more than even making all single-use bags of any type completely illegal.

So whenever you see a government official of whatever political affiliation making some claim about helping the environmental by taxing the supply of plastic bags, you should immediately ask what their real agenda is. If they're not also advocating more general restrictions on packaging, and they're not also advocating restricting other environmentally unfriendly practices such as supplying one-time paper bags when reusable bags could be used, then they're probably hiding some ulterior motive and/or capitalizing on some political talking point of the day.

Re:England (4, Informative)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about 5 months ago | (#45537233)

In Wales, the charge has been in place for over a year.

Re:England (2)

slim (1652) | about 5 months ago | (#45537513)

Yes, and everybody got used to it really quickly.

Even though it's a negligible charge, people tend to react by carrying a couple of spare carrier bags with them in case they go to a shop.

Re:England (4, Interesting)

Vanderhoth (1582661) | about 5 months ago | (#45537261)

They tried that here in Nova Scotia, at one point. Home Depot, Superstore and Walmart were charging 5 cents for each plastic bag. Sobey's, a competing grocery store with Superstore, opted not to charge for bags. Superstore lost BIG because people saw charging for bags as a cash grab, passing the buck, and making a profit, for something that's been free for a long time off to the consumer. People started going to Sobey's in droves, I remember not even being able to get in a store at one point. It wasn't long before Superstore stopped charging for bags. Not long after that so did Home Depot. I speculate because Kent, Home Depot's competition, didn't charge. Warlmart gave up shortly there after when Costco moved into town.

What Sobey's did do right was start selling cheap reusable nylon and canvas bags, which they would replace if ever the bag was damaged. I paid around $12 for six bags and some how ended up with ten somewhere along the way. I've had three replaced over the last four years with no issues. People still use plastic bags, I get them every now and then to clean the cat box and for kitchen catchers, but I see a lot more people using the reusable bags instead.

Re:England (1)

blackest_k (761565) | about 5 months ago | (#45537511)

Seems to low a charge to make a major difference in England but the levy is pretty effective here in Ireland. Reusable bags are widely available from around a euro upwards. There are paper bags available too in many shops. I generally use a rucksack. The plastic carriers supplied by tesco's are not very strong anyway with a high chance of breakage just going from the checkout to the Car Park.

Irelands pretty good at recycling, you basically pay to get your rubbish collected so it pays to be more environmentally conscious. Tins and bottles are generally recyclable for free at can banks as are clothes and shoes. It's not uncommon for supermarkets to host recycling banks on site although they tend not to be emptied often enough. If you rinse a tin after opening it and not leave it sitting around then you do not leave rotting crud on them to attract insects and moulds and disgusting smells.

you can even sell clothes by the kilo and even if there is no recycling bank available for steel cans, scrapyards will take them even thou the price is too low for them to be worth selling.

I grow a lot of my own herbs and vegetables but even while that isn't an option for everybody. You can always prep the vegetables you buy and freeze the excess. Actual cooking isn't that hard and has very little difference in buying ready meals and saves cash too. if you make too much well freeze the excess. Pretty simple isn't it.

I'm pretty sure i'm eating healthier by making my own food from ingredients rather than factory processed foods which have to be able to be stored on a shelf for weeks or months. I do buy good quality food too. I don't mind paying for coffee beans and actual butter, rather than instant coffee and emulsified dyed oils.

It is a better way of doing things both for you and the environment.

Taxing is not going to fix the problem (3, Insightful)

schwit1 (797399) | about 5 months ago | (#45537095)

This gets fixed by developing a better bag. Better means comparable cost and strength, with handles and environmentally safe.

Jumping straight away to a tax makes it look like nothing more than a money grab.

Re:Taxing is not going to fix the problem (4, Informative)

Sockatume (732728) | about 5 months ago | (#45537133)

There already are better bags, they're offered for sale alongside the cheap nasty ones. Either more durable plastic, or foil-lined bags for freezer items, or a range of light-to-heavy-duty fabric bags.

Re:Taxing is not going to fix the problem (4, Interesting)

TWiTfan (2887093) | about 5 months ago | (#45537229)

Yes, except I'm not going to use a bunch of fabric bags that have to buy myself, remember to bring to the store, and that have to be washed after every visit to the store. A much better and more practical idea would be a modest surcharge (5 cents/bag or whatever) which you then get back when you turn them in for recycling (which would be required in every store, not just at recycling centers). We already do this with plastic bottles in several states in the U.S. and, the way I see it, everybody wins.

Re:Taxing is not going to fix the problem (4, Insightful)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about 5 months ago | (#45537267)

remember to bring to the store

This is the big one. It's quite common to pop into a shop on the way home, and unless you're driving you won't have a bag with you. I'd love it if shops would give you a bag for a deposit and return the deposit when you returned the bag.

Re:Taxing is not going to fix the problem (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about 5 months ago | (#45537429)

That would be a good one, and would work well in parallel with a switch to reusable bags.

Re:Taxing is not going to fix the problem (2, Insightful)

Sockatume (732728) | about 5 months ago | (#45537279)

1) You don't have to wash them after ever visit, unless you're buying, like, unwrapped raw chicken in which case you've got bigger problems
2) You don't have to remember to bring them to the store so long as you have the presence of mind to know that you're going to the store, or to keep one in a handy place for unexpected runs.

Re:Taxing is not going to fix the problem (1, Insightful)

TWiTfan (2887093) | about 5 months ago | (#45537453)

1) You don't have to wash them after ever visit, unless you're buying, like, unwrapped raw chicken in which case you've got bigger problems

If you want to take your chances with bacteria, salmonella, etc.--go for it.

2) You don't have to remember to bring them to the store so long as you have the presence of mind to know that you're going to the store, or to keep one in a handy place for unexpected runs.

In other words, you don't have to remember to bring them to the store, just as long as you remember to bring them to the store.

Re:Taxing is not going to fix the problem (1)

TWX (665546) | about 5 months ago | (#45537235)

Well, in my experience, owning a few of those heavy duty canvas bags, they're not particularly straightforward to sanitize. We washed and dried one and it shrunk drastically. I don't know about you, but given the vectors for disease that uncooked foodstuffs provide, I don't want to have un-launderable bags that I have to pay any significant money for.

Re:Taxing is not going to fix the problem (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about 5 months ago | (#45537293)

Mine's some sort of synthetic, I just machine wash it. I don't know why you would use canvas because like you say it's almost unwashable.

Re:Taxing is not going to fix the problem (1)

EasyTarget (43516) | about 5 months ago | (#45537223)

.. makes it look like nothing more than a money grab.

No; it's a rent.
So long as you do not charge for bags that are strong when sold but soon decay once exposed to free air and UV then this is not a land grab, since the market (which only cares about polluting when it is expensive) will rapidly move to the least damaging option and your 'grab' will shrink to nothing.

Of course. This is actually a land grab, since the market will maximize profit anyway and once we are all used to paying for bags the charge will remain, The only way to prevent this would be legislation, which is commie and apparently evil.

Re:Taxing is not going to fix the problem (1)

stranger_to_himself (1132241) | about 5 months ago | (#45537231)

This gets fixed by developing a better bag. Better means comparable cost and strength, with handles and environmentally safe.

Jumping straight away to a tax makes it look like nothing more than a money grab.

Maybe - but it works in the short term. I lived in Ireland for a few years, the 22c was enough to make me (and most people) take my own bags shopping so far fewer bags were used. Now I'm back in free bag country and it feels weird and unnecessary to be given a load of new bags every time I go shopping.

I agree though that even an 80% reduction doesn't solve the problem, an environmentally safe bag would be the best solution.

Re:Taxing is not going to fix the problem (0)

durrr (1316311) | about 5 months ago | (#45537295)

It's also a drop in the ocean when you consider the amount of other plastic item packagings and liters of fuel the average consumer uses per year. It's an imaginary problem.

Re:Taxing is not going to fix the problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45537485)

Because, clearly it's more effective to curse the darkness than lighting a candle.

Captcha: "Mental". Indeed.

Re:Taxing is not going to fix the problem (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45537505)

This gets fixed by developing a better bag. Better means comparable cost and strength, with handles and environmentally safe.

Jumping straight away to a tax makes it look like nothing more than a money grab.

This also gets fixed by not using any plastic bags, ever, or even phasing out plastic packaging and outlawing excessive packaging in the retail market. The problem isn't just plastic, it's wasted energy recycling instead of making every temporary packaging biodegradable. Shopping - bring your hessian bags Household trash - metal or durable plastic bins Various products in shops - cardboard containers, etc. It's achievable. We managed to phase out paper bags and bring in plastic, without taxes but with legislation.

Re:Taxing is not going to fix the problem (0)

jbssm (961115) | about 5 months ago | (#45537519)

See, that's why we need a fee. Because ignorante uninformed and lazy people like you don't understand those exact same bags you talk about already exist for years and are for sale for a: "1 time fee, exchange for a new one as many times as you want", in many supermarkets.

So yeah, it's no wonder the government has to charge money form ignorants like you, since otherwise they will never learn.

Solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45537097)

Paper bags.

Re:Solution (2)

Chrisq (894406) | about 5 months ago | (#45537163)

Paper bags.

For most Americans this is hard to visualise but many Europeans walk to the supermarket. The bag has to be carry-able with handles, survive getting wet, and support a reasonable amount of weight.

Re:Solution (1)

TWX (665546) | about 5 months ago | (#45537249)

For most Americans this is hard to visualise but many Europeans walk to the supermarket. The bag has to be carry-able with handles, survive getting wet, and support a reasonable amount of weight.

And handle all of this without any underwear-loss incidents...

Re:Solution (1)

Kurast (1662819) | about 5 months ago | (#45537391)

I live in Brazil and sometimes I walk to the market.
Some upper end markets here give you a paper bag with handles, like this one:
http://blogs.estadao.com.br/curiocidade/files/2012/03/sacola_papel_SantaLuzia-682x1024.jpg [estadao.com.br]
I prefer those to plastic ones. They easily handle 10kg(about 25 lbs, for americans), where the plastic ones barely get 2kg(5 lbs) without punctures. Also they are very sturdy, and survive minor rain.
With two of those paper bags I can take the equivalent of ten or more plastic bags, and they don't hurt my fingers like the plastic ones do.

Re:Solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45537329)

They cannot much weight. Additionaly, the people who are too lazy to recycle PE bags are likely also too lazy to recycle paper bags.

Re:Solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45537441)

Don't need to worry as much about recycling, paper takes a lot less than hundreds of years to decompose... more like a couple of months.

Re:Solution (1)

SScorpio (595836) | about 5 months ago | (#45537529)

I've had them overflowing with 12oz glass bottles I'm taking back to the store and the bags have survived multiple trips. I've had more issues with the handles on plastic bags ripping apart.

Recycling is a non-issue. And get this, it promotes the growth of more trees which will be used for paper.

The cost and use of plastic bags (5, Interesting)

Apotekaren (904220) | about 5 months ago | (#45537107)

Ok, so plastic bags in the grocery stores here in Finland have cost somewhere between 15-30 Euro cents for, well forever. I could get a proper cloth grocery bag to reuse, or buy paper bags instead, but I choose not to. Why? I use those plastic bags for my trash!

So if I did go cloth or, heaven forbid, paper, I'd still have to buy plastic bags to put in my trash cans. It doesn't matter if I buy them separately or on a roll, I'm going to keep buying those plastic bags until I come up with a better way to get rid of my trash.

Re:The cost and use of plastic bags (4, Interesting)

Sockatume (732728) | about 5 months ago | (#45537149)

A roll of specially-designed bin-liners costs the equivalent of about five Euro cents per bag here, and you can get them in biodegradable varieties. You're wasting your money by using shopping bags.

Re:The cost and use of plastic bags (1)

berashith (222128) | about 5 months ago | (#45537213)

so why isnt someone attaching handles to these bin liners? Cheaper, same size...

I use my grocery bags for trash also, as I dont like having large trash cans holding large amounts of trash. The bags are free in the states, and I buy a box of large trash bags about once every 5-7 years i think. The cloth bags seem like a good idea, but it is just more stuff to keep track of, especially when you have to leave the bags at the front desk then ask for them back when you are ready to leave. Then they are a potential disease spread if not cleaned and maintained.

I have family in Austria, and shopping there involves using the stores discarded cardboard boxes to bring things home. That makes a ton of sense.

Re:The cost and use of plastic bags (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about 5 months ago | (#45537265)

1) My bin liners do come with handles. Really convenient for tying them off. If I was stuck and for some reason I needed a plastic bag for groceries I would certainly take one. (I use them for carrying the occasional inconveniently-shaped object anyway.)

2) You don't have to use "large trash cans holding large amounts of trash", I have bins of sizes from about 1 metre tall (kitchen nonrecyclables) to about 30cm (bathroom trash) and I can buy bin liners that neatly fit all of them.

3) Why on Earth do you have to leave your cloth bags at the front desk? We're just allowed to carry us around with us as we shop.

4) If you're coating your bags with things that cause disease you are doing something horribly wrong with your shopping. I have to machine wash a bag now and then if an item breaks but that's a quarterly chore at most, and just involves throwing it in when I wash my kitchen towels and cloths.

Re:The cost and use of plastic bags (1)

Apotekaren (904220) | about 5 months ago | (#45537221)

But saving time and bother. Some plastic bags here are some kind of biodegradable plastic(or they offer them), and when I throw them they'll end up in the municipal incinerator anyway. Doesn't matter.

Re:The cost and use of plastic bags (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about 5 months ago | (#45537275)

I don't see how it saves time and bother. You go to the store once, and you have a roll of bags for about 3 months. Versus having to go shopping to be able to throw out your garbage.

Re:The cost and use of plastic bags (1)

Apotekaren (904220) | about 5 months ago | (#45537319)

It's rare that the trash I produce takes up more space than the groceries I've carried home. Right now I have 4 or 5 plastic bags from previous trips waiting neatly rolled up under my sink. For when I take out the next filled bag. I've never run out of trash bags, and never bought a roll specifically for that use.

My recommendation; ban flimsy bags, and make only the big (40L is almost standard here) strong ones out of biodegradable materials.

Re:The cost and use of plastic bags (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about 5 months ago | (#45537373)

So, it's exactly as convenient as actually owning a roll of bags. What would the problem be if you suddenly had to switch over to ready-made bags? Do you actually use up all the bags you bring in?

Re:The cost and use of plastic bags (1)

thatkid_2002 (1529917) | about 5 months ago | (#45537247)

In Australia plastic bags are generally gratis. The cost of them is just factored into prices whether you use them or not... So, rather than buying bin liners I use the bags from my shopping. I wish more stores would use the biodegradable variety - then I'd have the best of both worlds!

Re:The cost and use of plastic bags (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45537321)

Translation "I want to keep throwing away things, so technology: make this possible".

Look: even supposing there was a biodegradable alternative with a carbon-neutral source (say PLA from corn): the bag itself may be biodegradable, but what about the manufacturing & transport? The thing might be CO_2 neutral on paper, but what about the fertilizers and pesticides needed in support of such a corn monoculture we'd need to keep up our "throw-away" way of life?

Making the end user feel the value of something (perhaps through a few cents) is IMO the best option.

Heck -- when I go to the store these days and bring along the plasic bag where yesterday's bread was in (and which is still in an excellent shape may be for ten uses more, at least) they stare at me as if I was something strange, and I've to make clear that yes, I want my loaf into that.

But nooo -- every little change is met with fears of "going back to stone age". Sheesh.

Good riddance (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about 5 months ago | (#45537113)

I started using re-usable bags and a backpack when I started having to hike to the nearest supermarket. You can fit more in them, you don't even notice the backpack, and the handles don't turn into cheese wire after thirty seconds with a moderate load. Mine even have a folding fibreboard base so you can fill them more easily. Once you get past the initial investment - and small policy nudges should take care of that - the convenience makes the switch worthwhile all on its own.

Car owners: do you use plastic crates? Safeway here used to offer them when it had a scan-as-you-go self-service system and I'm surprised they didn't take off more generally.

Re:Good riddance (1)

thatkid_2002 (1529917) | about 5 months ago | (#45537273)

I'd like a crate system! You could probably even return them at the door as you walk in. The problem with re-usable cloth bags is that you have the carry the bastards around while you shop, and I find that annoying.

Re:Good riddance (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about 5 months ago | (#45537337)

If I'm remembering rightly, they even had special trolleys that the crates fitted right into. Everything went straight into the crate as you shopped-and-scanned. You bought the crate outright, so it was yours, you just took it out to the car with the shopping in there and walked it right into the house. I still see them now and then when someone on my street is moving.

Of course the self-scanning thing is kind of the trick here.

Easy to ACTUALLY solve (4, Interesting)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 5 months ago | (#45537119)

Waste is a massive problem. And it has a trivial solution. Mandate that all packaging be recyclable, and marked for recycling. If it's not marked for recycling, prohibit sale and require the packages to be destroyed or returned to the country of origin. Anything not recyclable must be compostable and clearly marked as such. Finally, all plastic bags must be rapidly UV-degrading and compostable, full stop. That outright solves the problem of plastic bag forests. You don't need to charge a premium, which does absolutely nothing to mitigate the problem of the bags which ARE thrown away, and only an idiot would believe that the majority of the population will take good care of plastic sacks because they cost them 5p a piece. Requiring a more expensive bag will have the effect of making the bags more expensive anyway; some retailers will roll the cost into the cost of their products, and some of them will charge the customer. Either way, the free market is completely capable of solving this problem with the proper guidance, which is NOT a fee.

Re:Easy to ACTUALLY solve (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about 5 months ago | (#45537185)

Wouldn't the greater cost of the biodegradable bags also be passed onto the consumers in the form of higher prices? Anyway, the idea isn't that people would "take good care" of sacks they would otherwise throw out; the idea is that people would stop taking them in the first place.

Re:Easy to ACTUALLY solve (1)

cyber-vandal (148830) | about 5 months ago | (#45537303)

In industries with low competition yes. That hardly describes supermarkets.

Re:Easy to ACTUALLY solve (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about 5 months ago | (#45537349)

My point is that whatever passing-on-the-cost objection applies (or does not apply) to a bag surcharge also applies (or not) to his solution.

Re:Easy to ACTUALLY solve (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 5 months ago | (#45537515)

Wouldn't the greater cost of the biodegradable bags also be passed onto the consumers in the form of higher prices?

As I stated, some retailers would charge for the bags, and some would roll the costs into their prices. Who cares? Either way, you solve the bag problem.

Re:Easy to ACTUALLY solve (3, Insightful)

Jamlad (3436419) | about 5 months ago | (#45537193)

You don't need to charge a premium, which does absolutely nothing to mitigate the problem of the bags which ARE thrown away, and only an idiot would believe that the majority of the population will take good care of plastic sacks because they cost them 5p a piece.

That's just it. It does work, and it did work, in Ireland. I remember when the fee came into place and the number of plastic bag littler noticeably dropped, because it wasn't the big supermarkets that was causing all the waste. It was the local corner shop, where people would go to pickup a pint of milk, or the paper and some smokes and forget to bring a bag with them. All of sudden having to pay 15%-25% extra on top of your pint of milk (I forget how much it was relatively) and most people just carried it home in their hand.

Re:Easy to ACTUALLY solve (1)

pjt33 (739471) | about 5 months ago | (#45537463)

I don't have mod points, but I found this interesting. Here in Spain they charge for bags in the chain supermarkets, but in the "Chinese shops" (budget independent supermarkets mainly run by Chinese immigrants) and take-away shops they give you bags for free. A cheap bag in the chain supermarkets is only 2c, and the impression I get is that most people just pay it, although they do also sell reusable bags for 1€.

Biodegradable is not enough (5, Informative)

Errol backfiring (1280012) | about 5 months ago | (#45537211)

You are right to say compostable. Merely biodegradable usually means that there are a lot of harmful chemicals after the degrading process.

Re:Easy to ACTUALLY solve (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45537287)

Siad the man who has never visited another country. There is no "recycling" program in many of the other countries becuase there is no trash collection program in some of these same countries. Yet they face the same issue with plastic bag pollution that other developed countries have.

Re:Easy to ACTUALLY solve (2)

comrade smith (3446251) | about 5 months ago | (#45537375)

Having biodegradable plastic bags is a great option. I believe there are corn based materials that fit this requirement. Making more packaging biodegradable (particularly for non-food stuffs, like toys or tools) is also a good idea. But simply reducing packaging and plastic bag use is an even better option. Charging an amount per bag encourages people to reuse stronger bags. And they will if they are hit with a surcharge every time they shop. Some jurisdictions have even banned the distribution (by shops) of thin plastic bags altogether. You have to either carry your stuff by hand, or bring (or buy) a reusable bag.

Re:Easy to ACTUALLY solve (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45537449)

The plastic bags are already marked for recycling, and already compulsorily UV-degradable in several EU countries. That's not solving anything. However paying does solve the problem. At my place some supermarket started selling bags for 2p and even though the price is negligible, it's enough to significantly lower the number of bags actually used. If I could choose, I'd prefer pay the 2p as a tax instead of them going to the pocket of some millionaire owning the supermarket.

Re:Easy to ACTUALLY solve (1)

aBaldrich (1692238) | about 5 months ago | (#45537527)

In my country bio-degradable bags are mandatory. We have to pay an insignificant amount of money for each bag (equivalent to 0.025 USD - yes: two and a half cents) and it solves the problem completely because we still use them to carry goods from the supermarket and to dispose the trash, but after a year or two the bags degrade and are gone forever.

Relevant text (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about 5 months ago | (#45537121)

The first half of the following seems to be the important part:

First, Member States are required to adopt measures to reduce the consumption of plastic carrier bags with a thickness below 50 microns, as these are less frequently reused than thicker ones, and often end up as litter. Second, these measures may include the use of economic instruments, such as charges, national reduction targets, and marketing restrictions (subject to the internal market rules of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU).

solution not taxation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45537123)

Is it just me that's struggling to see how a 'solution' is to charge people more for something they already use? Surely we aren't going to stop using them because we get a charge added on, more likely we'll get more frustrated at the cost of the groceries bought since our total bill is higher because of the bag-tax.

Isn't there a better solution, different chemicals used in the bag 'technology', alternatives (The USA used paper bags for many years, why is that such a bad solution?)

Re:solution not taxation (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about 5 months ago | (#45537165)

Alternatives are already widely deployed in Europe. By shifting the price of the dominant option, you change people's buying patterns towards those alternatives. Simples economics.

Re:solution not taxation (1)

TWX (665546) | about 5 months ago | (#45537219)

By shifting the price of the dominant option, you change people's buying patterns towards those alternatives. Simples[sic] economics.

Not always. The price of fuel has skyrocketed in recent years, and most people do not commute on a daily basis further than the range of an electric car, but even households with more than one car (where the other can remain petroleum-powered) have not switched over to electric cars for at least one vehicle. Demand remains low enough that most automakers have only begrudgingly developed electric cars as governments have required them, and even then, only distribute them in limited numbers and only to the absolute minimum requirements.

Re:solution not taxation (1)

Xiaran (836924) | about 5 months ago | (#45537335)

What if the shift was on the car itself not the fuel(people can be funny about thinking things through). What if there was a 20% increase applied to traditional cars that was not applied to alternative cars.

Re:solution not taxation (2)

Sockatume (732728) | about 5 months ago | (#45537353)

That's because electric cars inherently cost a small fortune. (And will do until technology improves.) The barrier to entry is large enough that you'd need a much larger economic incentive before people were willing to switch.

Re:solution not taxation (1)

penix1 (722987) | about 5 months ago | (#45537263)

That's if they know the higher cost is because of the bag. If the cost is hidden in the total grocery bill, then the blame for that cost will be shifted to the store.

Look, most people use these bags because they are there, usually free and they are in a hurry. Until the reusable bags are given away as freely you will continue to see plastic bag usage no matter the cost.

Re:solution not taxation (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about 5 months ago | (#45537311)

The cost is always attached to the bag, in my experience. Unless there are some nations taxing supermarkets per bag used or something I don't know about.

Re:solution not taxation (1)

Chrisq (894406) | about 5 months ago | (#45537191)

Is it just me that's struggling to see how a 'solution' is to charge people more for something they already use? Surely we aren't going to stop using them because we get a charge added on, more likely we'll get more frustrated at the cost of the groceries bought since our total bill is higher because of the bag-tax.

The idea is that people will switch to reusable bags and bring them to the supermarket.

Isn't there a better solution, different chemicals used in the bag 'technology', alternatives (The USA used paper bags for many years, why is that such a bad solution?)

Paper bags are hard to hold from the top and can't stand getting wet. Try carrying half-a dozen paper bags to the bust stop in the rain and you will see why they don't work so well in Europe.

Re:solution not taxation (1)

gstoddart (321705) | about 5 months ago | (#45537315)

Paper bags are hard to hold from the top and can't stand getting wet. Try carrying half-a dozen paper bags to the bust stop in the rain and you will see why they don't work so well in Europe.

Paper suffers from that same problem in a lot of places.

But grocery stores, at least where I'm at, have been selling re-usable bags with handles for years. We've got a bunch of them we've been using for at least 3-4 years. They also charge 5 cents/plastic bag to make people less interested in using them, and I think even offer a small discount per re-usable bag.

We still occasionally end up with plastic for one reason or another, but we find out re-usable bags hold a LOT more than the store plastic bags, and are far more durable (and machine washable despite being made out of recycled plastic bottles).

As much as I can, I don't want to get too many plastic bags. They do come in handy for small garbage bags and the like, but on balance, you'll accumulate a lifetime supply in a relatively short period.

The Graduate is the reason (1)

middlemen (765373) | about 5 months ago | (#45537141)

Mr. McGuire: I just want to say one word to you. Just one word.

Benjamin: Yes, sir.

Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?

Benjamin: Yes, I am.

Mr. McGuire: Plastics.

Benjamin: Exactly how do you mean?

petrolium products obsoletely fatal (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45537145)

packaging more expensive than contents sucks us dry?

hang on to our hemispheres as the genuine native spirit of momkind rekindles our ability to think about each other as part of the same deal

Obligatory music track (3, Interesting)

Inf0phreak (627499) | about 5 months ago | (#45537147)

This discussion needs a soundtrack and we're so lucky that the perfect one already exists. I'm of course talking about one of the most "what do you mean it's not awesome?" pieces of music ever made, Canvas Bags by Tim Minchin [youtube.com].

Taking exception to a statement in the summary (2)

TWX (665546) | about 5 months ago | (#45537183)

From the summary, "Plastic bags usually take several hundred years until they decay..."

This is technically incorrect. Plastic bags have not existed for even fifty years, let alone a hundred or several hundred. Based on the best research and scientific modeling, materials scientists expect that plastic bags will remain for hundreds of years before they degrade, but that is an educated conjecture, not an observed fact.

Even tests done in ways to simulate time are by definition, simulations. They may well be accurate, but there have been times where scientific conjectures were later discovered to be either incorrect or else in need of modification to correct inaccuracies. This isn't to downplay the problems with the bags, but excessive assumptions only lead to someone else being able to counter one's arguments.

Re:Taking exception to a statement in the summary (3, Insightful)

Sockatume (732728) | about 5 months ago | (#45537217)

The decay rate of polyethylene is on sturdier ground than the decay rate of modern concretes and steels, so I don't think there's much cause for pathological scepticism. Unless you're unduly concerned that your roof is about to fall in on your head.

Re:Taking exception to a statement in the summary (1)

TWX (665546) | about 5 months ago | (#45537359)

Given where my career and interests have taken me, I'm regularly in engineering spaces in buildings to see and interact with the concrete and steel and wood of buildings. I have a good feel for how building materials up to a hundred years old behaves.

Re:Taking exception to a statement in the summary (2)

Sockatume (732728) | about 5 months ago | (#45537413)

If we're going to play that game, I'm a materials chemist. Trust me, you can expect more surprises from concretes and steels - amazingly clever mixtures - over fifty years than you can from a simple polyethylene film over a hundred.

Re:Taking exception to a statement in the summary (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45537417)

My wife is a research scientist specializing in additive packages for polyethylene. Raw polyethylene, particularly as film, degrades at a startling rate. Anti-oxidants and UV protectors are required to give the stuff a useful lifetime. When the additive package "runs out", the film disintegrates. "Remain for hundreds of years" is the purest of bullshit. The only place where that might be true is in a landfill, where that is *a desired property*. A landfill is *not* a compost heap, and the people who design them don't *want* the contents to degrade. Studies of landfill stability date the strata from newspaper headlines - paper from 50 years ago is expected to be easily readable.

Don't get me started on what's greenest - polyethylene, cloth or paper. People get their hate on because poly is a petrochemical, but they never bother to look at the big picture.

Re:Taking exception to a statement in the summary (2)

Sockatume (732728) | about 5 months ago | (#45537493)

The only place where that might be true is in a landfill, where that is *a desired property*. A landfill is *not* a compost heap, and the people who design them don't *want* the contents to degrade.

Stability is desirable, but the addition of waste is not, especially for whoever is paying for the landfill. Anything that reduces waste volume is a plus, and enhanced biodegradability in non-landfill polyethylene is a definite perk.

Re:Taking exception to a statement in the summary (1)

c0lo (1497653) | about 5 months ago | (#45537439)

From the summary, "Plastic bags usually take several hundred years until they decay..." This is technically incorrect.

Let me try:
Tellurium-128 [wikipedia.org] has a half life of 2.2(3)e+24 years.
Tellurium 128 has not existed for 2e+10 years [wikipedia.org], let alone 1e+24 or a couple of 1e+24 years. Based on the best research and scientific modeling, nuclear scientists expect that any certain amount of Tellurium-128 will be halved after 2.2(3)e+24 years, but that is an educated conjecture, not an observed fact. etc

Signal purpose (1)

Errol backfiring (1280012) | about 5 months ago | (#45537187)

In some countries, vendors "mark" clients with the bags. If you are a tough negotiator for the lowest price, you get a different colour plastic bag than if you are a western tourist who pays the first sum asked.

Re:Signal purpose (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45537351)

And are any of those countries in the EU?

3D Printers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45537227)

Interesting... what about the bigger picture and the revolution which is about to take place with plastic 3d printers?!

Plastic bag use will be neglible compared to the use of 3d printers, especially if they gain traction and become part of every home, like paper printers.

One of the worst problems of plastic isn't that animals choke, rather, it changes their sexual nature and in marine life, turns them into hermaphrodites... perhaps that's why there's an explosion in the homosexual disease in humans (i.e. since plastic leach hormone-like chemicals)?

There goes my citizenship (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45537237)

I always take my own bag (canvas-and-plastic, designed for carrying vinyl discs) and keep the giveaways I end up with anyway for re-use. Even if just as a garbage bag. The collection doesn't even change much in size. What do I get? A cookie? No. More rules. Why, thank you EU.

But what about my trash (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45537253)

I use these bags for my trash. I never hear what they say about trash bags. Am I to buy plastic bags to use for my trash? Not only does that seems silly to me, but it's not going to be any better for the environment.

Re:But what about my trash (1)

hierofalcon (1233282) | about 5 months ago | (#45537381)

Its all a conspiracy / major government lobbying effort by the plastic garbage trash can liner people and the cloth bag manufacturers to increase their sales.

I personally hate most of the plastic liner bags my wife buys. They tend to rip much more easily than the plastic shopping bags and they frequently don't have the handy handles to tie them up with. I try to reuse the plastic bags from grocery shopping whenever I can. Anytime you can do double duty with one product its a win in my book.

Re:But what about my trash (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45537389)

We're talking about the EU here. Only our Glorious Leaders should have the privilege of sanitation and proper light bulbs. Get back in line, slave.

my cat (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45537283)

uses these plastic bags twice a day

Australia - IGA Bio Degradable Bags (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45537297)

Australia's IGA supermarkets have free bio degradable bags given at each store. After 3 months they practically turn to dust when exposed to sunlight.

Charge that little bit extra for bio degradable bags and the problem is solved?

plastic bags in our seas? (5, Interesting)

amn108 (1231606) | about 5 months ago | (#45537407)

Five years ago I was on a beach outside Malaga, Spain, about to take a swim in the sea. Diving under water I suddenly saw hundreds of more or less colored plastic bags floating around at different depths, like jellyfish. The sea was apparently full with those, at least along the coastline, to a degree. Some sort of tide bringing these I guess. Needless to say, the swimming experience was not particularly appealing suddenly and was cut short. It was disgusting. I am not really sure how to fix this problem today, but a price tag on each bag and a penalty for disposing of trash in inappropriate locations in general seem like a start to me.

Customer Service (1)

ledow (319597) | about 5 months ago | (#45537427)

It's a question of customer service. If you make me pay for a bag, by removing the free alternatives and selling your own, then I'll avoid your store if I can. You know why? Any large supermarket recycles or throws about tons of empty cardboard boxes every month. You could stack them by the door, let me take them conveniently from where I have to pack my purchase into a trolley / basket, and they'd get re-used (much better than recycling). There are some shops that do this (shout-out to Trago Mills). They don't charge for boxes, they do for bags. They have lots of boxes just sitting there. And they have done for years. When I was a kid, supermarkets all did this. Now they don't. The ones that do are the rare exceptions. Probably some crappy health-and-safety or even recycling-backhander in play. Fact is that I'd rather take a used, strong, perfectly-sized cardboard box from a pile than do anything with bags at all. If I go into your shop and buy things, I need to take them out of your shop. If you're going to make me pay to take them out, I'll buy less. Just "to make a statement", nothing to do with the money. And if you're really insistent, I have a very bad memory so never remember to bring my "own" bags (which you expect me to have paid for at some point), so what I'll do is roll the trolley out into the car park, empty it into the car, and take it out at home. No bag for you, more hassle for me. I could buy my own "trolley", like some old British women do, but why would I? I don't want to spend money to help me spend money. All of which means I won't come to your shop for small purchases and other times. Shopping trolleys were invented in order to make sure people could carry enough goods home that they didn't have to worry about what they bought and hence they would buy more. If I have to think about how many bags I have and where they are and whether I have to grab them in the morning to do a shop after work, etc. then I'm not going to go elsewhere. I've done this recently after the last supermarket in the area moved to a "coin deposit" trolley system. I rarely carry cash, and when I have it I won't remember to bring change on my shopping trip. And I probably don't have a pound coin even when I do have a pound in change. So it's just an inconvenience. As far as I'm concerned it's like DRM. You're getting in my way as an honest customer in order to fight against some mythical trolley thieves that you'd be better off just putting a security guard on the exit from the car park to stop. I've been back to that shop once since. I took a basket because I didn't have a pound coin on me and had forgotten about the new system. I bought a handful of things, then my arms got tired, so I paid and put it straight back into the car and drove off. Haven't been back. It has nothing to do with money, ecology or the environment. If you're going to inconvenience me, you're not providing proper customer service. There are ways out that are really simple and tie in very nicely with the way you run your business and dispose of packaging yourself. But you choose to inconvenience me, and force me to pre-plan all shopping trips (which works against you, I spend more when I have no idea what I have in my fridge, have lots of strong bags, etc.). I've got the message. I'll shop elsewhere. Get this: I'd rather go elsewhere if you charge me for bags and provide no alternatives. Even with a car. Even with 100GBP weekly shopping trips. Even with strong arms and no disabilities. Is that worth the pence you save by charging me for bags, recycling your boxes, or not having a trolley wander off? P.S. After a month of the new system, your trolleys now allow you to remove the pound coin without needing to replace it in the lines of trolleys because the internal mechanisms are so weakened (presumably through sheer wear or forcible removal)... lots of money well spent there on pissing me off.

Re:Customer Service (1)

ledow (319597) | about 5 months ago | (#45537479)

Damn lameness filter decided there was something it didn't like. Edited ten times to get rid of symbols and abbreviations, still flipped out.

So I changed it from Plain Old Text to HTML and that's the result up there, stripped of all my nice line returns...

Again, good customer service... the lameness filter is easily bypassed and in doing so makes my post look like shit.

Stop Right There (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45537431)

Plastic bags usually take several hundred years until they decay

Stop right there! My experience with thin plastic grocery bags has shown that within 3 to 5 years they are falling apart. Even in relatively good conditions they start degrading quite quickly and become useless. Outside, in the sunshine, I very much doubt that they last more than 10 years.

If they must regulate, perhaps their rules should not limit use, but rather insist that manufacturers only produce photodegradable bags, which seems to already be the case.

Re:Stop Right There (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about 5 months ago | (#45537509)

I came in here and searched for "photo" and found your post, because this was my first thought.

Photodegradable bags are the answer, easy. They're already the norm in many places.

Plastic bag weight (2)

abigsmurf (919188) | about 5 months ago | (#45537471)

200 plastic bags is under a kilo of plastic, compared to the food packaging (especially for micromeals) it's negligable. In terms of carbon footprint, it's impact is tiny and barely any better than re-usable bags.
Rather than using it to raise funds, how about mandating supermarkets to use biodegradable/compostable materials instead? Better yet, make supermarkets do "litter patrol" like they do in England with McDonalds.

Recycling (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#45537483)

The problem is not that plastic bags are used, but that (apparently), part of the bags are not recycled properly

Plastic bags usually take several hundred years until they decay, thereby filling landfills, while animals often mistake the plastic for food and choke to death

Plastic bags should not end up in a landfill or anywhere where animals could have access to them in the first place. They can and should be recylced. Additionally, landfills are meant for what is left after proper incineration, not for untreated waste.

These problems will not be solved by taxing consumers.

Didn't some Canadian kid develop bugs for this? (1)

sandytaru (1158959) | about 5 months ago | (#45537495)

I clearly remember a science project where some teenager bred bacteria that could break down plastic bags in about three weeks. It won somebody's science fair project and everything.

Depends on the tax (1)

sunking2 (521698) | about 5 months ago | (#45537523)

I'm actually OK with being charged for the bags if the money collected is allocated to a system that actually addresses a direct bag created issue such as upgrading recycling facilities to better handle them so they don't just go into landfills. What I am against in a general sin tax on bags that goes and funds whatever it is the government wants to fund with the money collected.
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