Plastic Bag Reduction Around The World
Here is a brief snapshot of other countries' actions on reducing plastic bag use.
Bangladesh was the first country to ban polyethylene bags. From early 2002, beginning in the capital Dhaka and spreading later to the whole country, the use, production and marketing of polyethylene shopping bags was banned. Plastic bags were widely blamed for exacerbating the 1988 and 1998 floods that submerged two-thirds of the country, as they were major contributors to blocked drains.
Many reports credit the ban on polythene bags with a revival of the jute bag industry and other sustainable and biodegradable alternatives.
Ireland was the first country to use a nation-wide levy to discourage plastic bag use. In March 2002, a 15 euro-cent (25c AUD) levy was placed on plastic supermarket checkout bags. It had an immediate effect on consumer behaviour with a decrease in plastic bag usage from an estimated 328 bags per capita to 21 bags per capita within a week[i] - a drop of about 98% Plastic bag litter also decreased by over 95%. Prior to the levy's introduction, about 1.26 billion disposable plastic bags were given away free by retailers.
The plastic bag levy increased to 22 euro-cents in July 2007 in response to a small increase in plastic bag use between 2004 to 2006[ii]. Currently, plastic bag use remains relatively low, at about 11% of pre-levy use (2010 figures)[iii].
In May 2003, the South African government introduced a range of measures to reduce plastic bag use and plastic bag litter. One measure was purchase price - plastic bags could only be sold for a fixed price (46 rand cents) plus an additional levy of 3 rand cents (which rose to 4 rand cents in March 2009). The other measure was setting a minimum thickness for plastic bags of 30 microns (whereas the average thickness of plastic bags had been 17 microns). The heavier gauge was intended to encourage reuse of plastic bags.
Before these measures were introduced, plastic bag consumption in South Africa was estimated at 8 billion per year. A 2010 study by the University of Cape Town suggested that since these measures were introduced, there has been an overall fall in the consumption of plastic bags of approximately 44% (calculated 'per 1000 rand of shopping')[iv].
In August 2003, the government of Himachal Pradesh became the first state government in India to implement national legislation on banning plastic bags[v]. The production, storage, sale, distribution and even the use of polythene bags was banned. In Himachal Pradesh and other Indian states, plastic bags have been widely blamed for exacerbating floods and killing foraging cows.
Many other Indian regional or municipal governments have also since implemented bans on plastic bags or laws requiring plastic bags to be of a minimum thickness. These include the governments of Delhi (laws in effect since 2009), Chandigarh (2008), Mumbai, Maharashtra (2005), Sikkim, Kerala and Rajasthan (2010).
From February 2008, China's State Council implemented a nationwide 'plastic bag restriction order'. This prohibited the production, sale or use of plastic shopping bags with thickness less than 25 micron. In addition, a price was imposed so that plastic bags could no longer be given away freely by retailers.
In 2011, the Chinese government reported that plastic bag use in retail places had dropped by 24 billion since the implementation of the plastic bag restriction order (or roughly two-thirds. This represents a saving of about 60,000 tons of plastics, which is equivalent to saving 3.6 million tons of oil or 5 million tons of coals, and cutting carbon dioxide emissions by over 10 million tons[vi].
United States of America
Many states and cities in the USA have implemented plastic bag bans or fees. For a comprehensive list, see http://plasticbaglaws.org/legislation/state-laws/
The first city in the USA to ban plastic bags was San Francisco. From December 2007, any large supermarkets and chain pharmacies in San Francisco were prohibited from distributing plastic checkout bags.
Other countries in brief
Botswana implemented a ban on plastic bags less than 24 micron in July 2007. At the same time a tax was imposed on plastic bags, which led retailers to place a price on plastic bags[vii].
In Italy, retailers have been banned from providing polyethylene bags to shoppers since January 2011[viii]. Only biodegradable bags may be provided.
Kenya first took action on plastic bags in 2007 by banning plastic bags that were less than 30 microns thick. The measure was not widely regarded as successful, but in March 2011 a new ban took effect, outlawing plastic bags that are less than 60 microns[ix].
Rwanda was the first African country to introduce legislation taking action on plastic bag use. A partial ban on plastic bag use beginning in 2005 was followed in 2008 by a total ban. Currently, visitors to the country are warned that any visible plastic bags will be confiscated at the airport, and there are reports of plastic bag confiscations in public places.
In Spain, a 5 euro-cent tax was imposed on plastic bags effective 1 May 2011. This increased to 10 euro-cents in 2012[x].
In Wales, a minimum charge of 5 pence has applied to all single use carrier bags since 1 October 2011. This applies to all single-use carrier bags, whether they are made from plastic, paper or plant-based materials such as starch[xi].
Other African countries: Uganda, Tanzania and Zanzibar have implemented partial or total bans on plastic bag manufacture and use.
Other European countries: Denmark and Bulgaria charge a tax on plastic bags, while in Belgium a fee is charged that goes towards plastic bag collection and recycling. Retailers in France, Germany, Portugal, Hungary and the Netherlands charge for plastic bags voluntarily (for more information see the Pre-Waste Project).
[iv] Analysis of the plastic-bag levy in South Africa. Johane Dikgang, Anthony Leiman and Martine Visser. Policy Paper Number 18, University of Cape Town.
[vii] Behavioral Response to Plastic Bag Legislation in Botswana. Environment for Development Discussion Paper Series May 2010. Johane Dikgang and Martine Visser.