Buildings and Housing

In April, the European Parliament agreed on the plastic bag directive.

 The directive requires governments to introduce a charge on plastic carrier bags by end 2018 or to take other measures to insure a reduction in their consumption to 90 bags per person by end 2019 and to 40 bags per person through 2025. With this, European consumption of plastic bags should be reduced by 80% in 10 years.

Furthermore, the definition of when a plastic bag is a multi-use bag, and thereby not subject to prohibition, was changed. Previously, it was based on weight with a limit at 8.5 grams. An ordinary bag from a Danish supermarket weighs about 20 grams and the EU initially considered them reusable. However, in the final version of the agreement between national environment ministers and the European Parliament, the definition is now that reusability depends on the bags’ thickness - and here, common Danish plastic carrier bags have been found too thin. The bags used in the Danish supermarkets, is typically in the range of 30-70 microns, most of which have a thickness of about 40 micron, but the thickness has to be above 50 micron (0.05 mm).

The Environmental Protection Agency however, does not expect that the revision of the packaging directive will lead to changes in Danish legislation. Denmark is among the EU countries that use the fewest plastic carrier bags per person, and one of the countries that already have a tax system on the carrier bags. The consumption of single-use plastic carrier bags covered by the new EU rules (>50 micron) is less than 80 bags per capita. However, it might be a challenge to reduce the consumption of plastic carrier bags to 40 per capita by 2025.

The Ecological Council recommends that all retailers should be obliged to take a minimum price for these plastic bags. Today only supermarkets take such a price. Other shops, like clothes, sports, hardware, and bookshops choose to pay the tax (and the price of the bag) themselves and give the bags to the costumers free of charge.

Furthermore, the tax should also be extracted to cover bags under 5 liters, as these are also often handed out to customers free of charge. This should however, only apply to bags above a certain size, as small thin bags function as an alternative to packaging. The tax should not be higher than on packing and therefore give an advantage to selling in packing compared to selling in bulk.

In 2001, the indexation of green taxes was stopped, and no longer followed the price inflation. Consequently, the effect of the tax on behavior has slowly declined. In 2008, indexation was re-introduced on energy taxes, but not on environmental taxes like the plastic carrier bags tax. The Ecological Council therefore recommends that indexation is re-introduced on plastic carrier bags to avoid the usage of plastic carrier bags creeping back up.

FACTS: Plastic carrier bags are typical for the modern consumer society. They are light, practical, with no value and are often disposed after a single use. Yet plastic carrier bags are a serious burden to the environment. In 2010, 95.5 billion plastic bags (1.42 million ton) were brought on to the market in the EU, most of which (92%) were single-use bags. Furthermore, plastic bags needlessly exacerbate the amount of plastic waste in the oceans, where they have the same harmful effect as other plastic waste.

In Denmark, most household waste is either recycled or incinerated. Therefore, the rate of plastic bags littered in the Danish nature is low (approx. 0.5-1%). Still, single-use plastic bags is a waste of resources, as they are based on fossil oil. The general picture in Europe, according to the European Environment Agency – Marine Litter Watch - is that around 3% of the marine litter is “shopping bags including pieces” – while around 90% of the marine litter is some kind of polymer materials. The reason for the low share of shopping bags might be that these will relatively quickly degrade and sink to the bottom. In countries where a larger part of the waste is landfilled, more plastic bags will be taken by the wind and end up in nature. In addition, with a less effective waste collection, even more waste will end up in nature.