Global Carrier Bag Interventions
3rd March 2017
Many countries across the world have been working towards reducing the impact of carrier bags over the past 20 years and these methods have been met with varying success. There are three main strategies that countries have implemented as approaches to try and reduce the volume of carrier bags being used: bag fees at the checkout, taxes for retailers and importers, and bans.
1. Bag fees at checkout
These are fees to the consumer which can be very effective at eliminating the use of non-essential bags as consumers only purchase the required bags. This has the added effect of raising awareness around issues of plastic waste. The use of fees for the consumer have been widely implemented across the world, with some being voluntary schemes and others being legislative. Some examples of countries that use this strategy are: Germany, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, Hungary, Portugal, Norway, United Kingdom. In Hong Kong a levy of $50 cents was introduced and the use has reduced by 90% since 2015. Most countries that have implemented this have used the proceeds for recycling or other environmental charities.
2. Bag taxes for retailers and importers
These are fees that are charged to the retailer rather than the consumer. This can lead to changes in the business of the retailer but rarely leads to significant changes as it does not often impact on the consumer. For example, in Denmark, manufacturers and importers are required to pay taxes based on the weight of plastic bags. Some retailers then choose to pass this fee onto the consumer but many do not.
Some countries have taken this legislation a step further as well. Belgium for example, have also brought in fees on plastic films, aluminium foils and disposable cutlery as well as single use carrier bags.
3. Plastic bag bans
This is bar far the most extreme of the strategies to tackle carrier bags and as such very few countries have gone down the route of complete bans on plastic bags. So far, there have been very few countries that have implemented a complete plastic bag ban. Rwanda implemented a full ban in 2008 and have had a large success due to the commitment of the residents. Similarly, the state government of Queensland in Australia has previously announced plans to introduce a ban on single-use carrier bags by 2018, discussed in a previous blog post. However, other countries such as Bangladesh and Taiwan have had limited success with the imposed bag bans. Bangladesh implemented their ban in 2001 as there was a fear that the waste plastic bags would lead to blocked drains and an increased risk of flooding. Unfortunately, the ban has not been successful as there has been a lack of enforcement and the alternatives to carrier bags have not proved suitable – reusable bags are too costly for many and paper alternatives can tear and soak. In the USA, although there is no national ban, a number of states do ban plastic bags, instead encouraging the use of paper bags with a small fee.
Most countries that ban bags opt for mandates towards how the bags are made (such as changes to the type of plastic or thickness of the bag). For example, in Mexico, France and Italy, the use of non-biodegradable bags has been banned. There are still single use plastic bags in circulation in these countries, but they are all made from compostable plastic. Both China and India have opted to ban ultra-thin plastic bags, those thinner than 20 microns in India and 50 microns in Mumbai. However, these bans are often disregarded and not enforced properly.