EU – The European Commission has adopted a proposal that requires Member States to reduce their use of plastic carrier bags with a thickness of less than 50 microns, as these are less frequently reused than thicker ones and often end up as litter. This proposal is in line with the objectives of the EU Directive 94/62/EC on Packaging and Packaging Waste.
According to the proposal, Member States are free to choose the measures they think most appropriate for their situation. Such measures could include the use of economic instruments, such as taxes and levies, national reduction targets, and marketing restrictions.
The proposal does not oblige Member States to use economic instruments to reduce plastic bag consumption, explained the European Commission, “for reasons of subsidiarity and because the scale of the problem varies across Member States”. Hence, “the proposal foresees that Member States design themselves the measures they deem most effective, taking into account existing best practices.”
There are restrictions though on the methods used by Member States to reduce plastic bag usage. While Member States can ban plastic bags on their territory, “the ban can’t be discriminatory to a certain type of lightweight plastic bag over another, and it mustn’t be a disguised restriction on trade between Member States,” said the European Commission.
While Member States have “more freedom to introduce more restrictive measures, but the freedom to define such measures is not unlimited” and must be compatible with EU law, noted the European Commission, adding that “Member States may maintain or adopt measures that restrict the free movement of goods, provided that these are proportionate and non-discriminatory”.
Member States have 12 months for transposition, and two years to implement the Directive.
Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik said, "We're taking action to solve a very serious and highly visible environmental problem. Every year, more than 8 billion plastic bags end up as litter in Europe, causing enormous environmental damage.
“Some Member States have already achieved great results in terms of reducing their use of plastic bags. If others followed suit we could reduce today's overall consumption in the European Union by as much as 80%."
The European Commission said in the proposal that this action is necessary because the high consumption rates of plastic carrier bags “represent both a common and a trans-boundary challenge, and an EU-wide initiative is necessary to tackle the problem in a more coherent and effective way.”
In 2010, an estimated 98.6 billion plastic carrier bags were placed on the EU market, which amounts to every EU citizen using 198 plastic carrier bags per year. Out of these almost 100 billion bags, the vast majority are lightweight bags, which are less frequently re-used than thicker ones.
Consumption figures vary greatly between Member States, with annual use per capita of lightweight plastic carrier bags ranging between an estimated 4 bags in Denmark and Finland, and 466 bags in Poland, Portugal and Slovakia.