The bag that is compliant
Regulations in the European Union
In 2017, the average EU citizen consumed 198 plastic carrier bags. After the Directive (EU) 2015/720 regarding the consumption of lightweight plastic carrier bags was enacted, the national governments of the member states introduced different regulations in their countries in order to reduce the consumption.
The Austrian federal government introduced a complete ban on placing non-biodegradable plastic bags on the market from 1 January 2020 on. This ban also applies to e-commerce.
In the Walloon region, a decree was enacted which banned the use of plastic carrier bags from December 2016. Until January 2019, plastic bags with a bio-sourced content of at least 40% were allowed for food packaging. In the Brussels region, a decree was enacted which banned the use of plastic carrier bags from September 2017, and plastic bags of less than 50 microns from September 2018. The Flemish region introduced a ban in January 2020.
From the beginning of 2022, the use of lightweight plastic carrier bags, with the exception of very light ones, will be banned.
In 1993, Denmark introduced a levy (tax to the state) on all carrier bags with a handle and a volume of at least 5 litres. Since then, the consumption of plastic bags went down from 19,000 tonnes in 1993 to about 9,000 tonnes in 2015. Since 1 January 2021, the Danish Parliament has banned free plastic bags in stores, thin plastic carrier bags, which cannot be recycled, and thin plastic carrier bags, which typically cannot be used more than once or twice. The Ministry of the Environment has set a tax of minimum DKK 4 (€0.54) for every bag sold in retail. That includes paper bags, provided they have handles. The very thin plastic bags for fruit and vegetables are still legal due to food waste control and food hygiene. The measures follow the EU packaging directive and have the purpose of reducing the consumption of carrier bags.
The amendment of the Packaging Act has restricted the use of plastic bags in Estonia since 2019. From then on, handing out free larger plastic bags has been prohibited in stores. This concerns for example plastic bags handed out for purchases in large numbers during sales campaigns. Exemption are smaller lightweight plastic bags which can be used as primary packaging for loose food (e.g. meat or vegetables) or for hygiene purposes (e.g. milk in plastic packaging).
The Ministry of the Environment in Finland has developed a “Green Deal agreement” in which the government and business sectors agree on the compliance with sustainability aspects. Since 31 October 2016, a voluntary agreement has been in force between the Ministry of the Environment and the Federation of Finnish Commerce. It aims at agreeing on voluntary measures of the retail sector to ensure that the minimum objectives concerning the consumption of lightweight plastic bags are reached.
Since 1 July 2016, single-use lightweight (< 50 μm) plastic bags (no matter which kind of plastic) are forbidden at the point of sale. Since 1 January 2017, single-use lightweight (< 50 μm) plastic bags are also forbidden for the packing of goods at the point of sale (e.g. for fresh fruit, vegetables, cheeses, fish). However, compostable bio-sourced lightweight plastic bags are allowed for this case.
A voluntary agreement between the German Federal Environment Ministry and the German Trade Association (HDE) was introduced on 1 July 2016. It involves a fee for carrier bags of €0.05 to €0.50 per bag – for larger and thicker bags, the fee is one euro. From the beginning of 2022, retailers are no longer allowed to hand out lightweight plastic carrier bags with a wall thickness of 15 to 50 micrometres to their customers. Particularly light plastic carrier bags with a wall thickness of less than 15 micrometres are exempted from this legislation.
Italy introduced a law in 2011 stating that single-use plastic shopping bags with thicknesses < 60 μm (100 μm for food-contact applications) distributed by retail stores must be made from biodegradable plastic, certified compostable according to EN 13432. In 2022, a plastics tax is to come into force which will apply to certain disposable products such as plastic bottles, carrier bags and food containers.
A mandatory fee of €0.25 per plastic bag was introduced on 1 January 2016.
Starting from July 1, 2018, all plastic bags must be charged for. The exception are ultra-lightweight bags (less than 15 µm thickness) which are primarily used for packaging loose food products (necessary to prevent food waste). Also excluded are thicker bags (50 µm or larger thickness) with a recycled plastic content of at least 70% promoting the use of recycled plastic. From 2020 on, thicker bags (50 µm or larger thickness) must have a recycled plastic content of at least 50%. In 2023, a ban on the sale of fruit and vegetables in plastic wrapping in supermarkets will come into effect. This is part of a decree drafted by Spain’s Ministry for Ecological Transition.
In Sweden there are two regulations concerning plastic bags; one from 2016 (Förordning (2016:1041) om plastbärkassar) which states that from 1 June 2017 businesses and operators who professionally provide plastic carrier bags to their consumers have an obligation to inform them of the environmental impact of plastic carrier bags.
From 1 March 2020 there has been a new law in Sweden (Lag (2020:32) om skatt på plastbärkassar) which puts a tax on single-use plastic carrier bags of SEK 3 per bag. For small plastic bags, with a volume less than 7 litres and with a wall thickness less than 15 µm) the tax is SEK 0.30 per bag.