The (Dutch) Ban on Plastic Bags: Make Your Choice!

Since the 1st of January of this year plastic carrier bags have been “banned” from Dutch retail stores. That is, the free plastic carrier bag. The Dutch government has already implemented the possibility to ban these bags in the so-called Decree on Management of Packaging 2014. In this Decree a provision was implemented not to allow provide certain unfilled “containers” to the end user. By a ministerial regulation (Regulation on the Management of Packaging) the ban on plastic carrier bags came into force.

What is the problem?

In 2010, an average of 198 plastics bags were consumed per person across the European Union. Each year more than 8 billion plastic bags become litter. More than 90% of this waste is made up of light bags, which were only used once. Such a light plastic carry bag is used for about 20 minutes, but then remains in the environment for hundreds of years before it will be degraded completely. It is said that this large volume of waste plastic is a well-known contributor to the “plastic soup”, which can be found in seas and oceans. The annual beach monitoring by the Dutch Department of Public Works shows that from the ten most frequently found items on beaches, plastic bags are number three.

It was concluded by the European Union that it was necessary to make regulations to prevent a further increase in the use of carrier bags.

European legislation

Directive 2015/720 amends Directive 94/62/EC with regard to reducing the consumption of lightweight plastic carrier bags with a wall thickness of less than 50 microns. Member States may choose between two types of measures and the measures may also be combined.

The first group includes measures that aim to reduce annual consumption to:

  • Maximum 90 light plastic bags per person per year, by December 31, 2019; and
  • Maximum 40 light plastic bags per person per year, by December 31st, 2025;
  • Or similar targets in weight.

 How Member States will achieve reductions, they may decide for themselves. For example, they may impose taxes, start information campaigns, etc.

Member States may also opt for a second group of measures. These measures consist of ‘instruments’ that ensure that no free light plastic bags are offered at the point of sale of goods or products, unless “equally effective tools are applied” after December 31st 2018. The text does not specify what kind of “effective tools” are intended.

Member States will have a lot of freedom in the process of coming to the proposed reduction. However, the reduction measures of the first group also bring difficult measurement requirements with them; a ban is therefore simpler.

There is an exception for very thin plastic bags with a wall thickness of less than 15 microns, which are used for hygienic reasons or as a primary packaging for unpackaged food, if it prevents food waste.

The full EU Directive for this must be incorporated into national law by November 27, 2016.

Dutch legislation

The Dutch legislator chose the simplest option: to ban all plastic carrier bags, except the very thin plastic bags which can be used ‘for reasons of hygiene’. The other options from the Directive were not an option due to administrative burdens and verifiability.

In order to prevent a shift in the distribution of free plastic bags under 50 microns and in the distribution of free bags above 50 microns, Directive (EU) 2015/720 was used to extend the ban to all bags regardless of the wall thickness. Thus, the ban also relates to plastic bags over 50 micron wall thickness. For consumers and for shopkeepers the ban is clearer and simpler this way.

Retail stores have to charge a reasonable amount for a plastic bag (€0.25 has been proposed by the government) and they must record that they have sold the bag. The Environment and Transport Inspectorate ensures compliance with the ban on free plastic bags. The Inspectorate will therefore carry out checks at points of sale and conduct administrative investigations.

Opinions of Dutch retailers are divided. In the supermarkets in the Netherlands the introduction of the measure was not difficult, since plastic bags have not been freely provided there for years. Others find it regrettable that there is no obligation for composting very thin bags, because these alternatives are already widely available.

Plastic Bag Bans in some other European countries:

  • Ireland: levy on plastic bags (since 2002), to be paid by consumers. The rate is 22 cents per bag.
  • Northern Ireland: levy on plastic bags (since 2013), to be paid by consumers. The rate is five pence (about 6 cents) per bag.
  • Scotland: levy on plastic bags (since 2014), to be paid by consumers. The rate is five pence (about 6 cents) per bag.
  • Wales: levy on plastic bags (since 2011), to be paid by consumers. The rate is five pence (about 6 cents) per bag.
  • Denmark: tax on plastic bags, to be paid by retailers (since 2003), rate: 22 Danish Krone (about € 2.95) per kg. This equates to a rate of 1 to 2 cents per bag. Retailers can decide whether to pass these costs.
  • Italy: a ban on plastic bags, with the exception of biodegradable bags.
  • France: a ban on plastic bags for single use by January 1st, 2016.

Germany, Hungary, Portugal: similar to The Netherlands, pay for plastic carrier bags.

The trunk of the author’s car after a daily shop in Portugal a few years ago.

Plastic bags

Sources

  • Regulation on the Management of Packaging, Dutch regulation based on the Decree on Management of Packaging 2014
  • Directive 2015/720 EU, reducing the consumption of lightweight plastic carrier bags
  • IenM/BSK-2015/15767, letter from the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment with regard to approach of plastic carrier bags, February 26, 2015
  • Appendix of acts, parliamentary year 2014-2015, no. 1396, March 2, 2015

 

Guest blog written by Patrick de Klerk, DK Consultancy, The Netherlands

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