The European Commission is considering a tax or a ban on plastic bags as it seeks the public's views on how to reduce their use and fight pollution.
The Commission called for suggestions on Wednesday (18 May) on how to deal with the billions of bags used in the European Union each year, but which take hundreds of years to decompose.
"Fifty years ago, the single-use plastic bag was almost unheard of. Now we use them for a few minutes and they pollute our environment for decades," EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik said in a statement on Wednesday.
Each person in the 27-country European Union uses on average 500 plastic carrier bags per year – most of them just once.
A total of 3.4 million tonnes of plastic bags, weighing the same as about two million cars, were produced in Europe in 2008.
Several countries have already introduced bans on disposable plastic bags or struck agreements with retailers to phase them out. Most supermarkets now charge for their use. But there is no specific measure at EU level, the Commission points out, saying "effective action is needed".
The Commission is also seeking the public's views on how to boost biodegradability of packaging, with an upcoming review of the EU Packaging Directive. The review will also look at clearer labelling for biodegradable bags in order to help consumers make better choices.
"Advertising a packaging product as biodegradable when in fact it will not biodegrade in natural conditions can be misleading, and contributes to the proliferation of litter," the EU executive said.
The Commission's public consultation will close at the end of August.
(EURACTIV with Reuters.)