German checkouts to charge for plastic bags

The improper disposal of plastic bags causes significant damage to the environment. [Zainub Razvi/Flickr]

Germany is set to tackle the excessive consumption of plastic carrier bags, after a trade association submitted an attractive proposal. EURACTIV Germany reports.

The German government’s Minister for the Environment, Barbara Hendricks has welcomed a draft proposal by the HDE trade association on the issue. The average annual consumption of plastic bags per German is to be lowered from 71 to 40 by 2025.

After April of next year, Germans will have to pay for plastic bags. The Süddeutsche Zeitung cited the HDE’s proposal, reporting that the price of a plastic bag at the checkout will likely be at least 20 cents. Bags used to pack fruit and vegetables at supermarkets will be exempt from the rules. Hendricks (SPD) had announced that the government would draft a law itself in the event that the industry did not table a solution itself.

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A ministry spokesperson to the newspaper that they welcomed the proposal, but that there were still discussions to be had regarding price. The main issue to address is whether the proposed price will actually lead to a decrease in per capita bag-use by 2025. The target is an EU-instigated objective.

Currently, Germans use an average of 71 bags a year. This figure has already achieved an EU-target of 90 bags per year by 2019.According to HDE, commercially available bags in Germany pollute the oceans far less.

The ministry spokesperson reiterated Germany’s commitment to reduce the number of bags used to 40 by 2025. This target is based on EU Commission legislation, which will come into force in national law in November 2016. The HDE wants to leave it up to individual companies to set the price of plastic bags themselves.

>>Watch: Commission seeks to cut plastic bag use

According to the Commission, European citizens use around 100 billion plastic bags per year. Of this staggeringly high figure, 8 billion are not disposed of properly and end up in waterways. The plastic used to make the bags decomposes over time into micro particles that, in turn, enter the food chain and eventually end up on our dinner plates.

Germany is not the first country to combat the environmental threat of excessive plastic bad-use. Legislation came into force in Wales on 1 October 2011 regarding the use of single-use carrier bags, which are no longer given away for free when people buy goods. It is estimated that single-use carrier bag use between 2011 and 2014 has declined by 71%. Between 2001 and 2014 there has been an estimated overall reduction in all bag use by 57%. Consumer support for the charge has increased since 2011 from 61% to 74% in 2015. From when the 5p charge was introduced in October 2011 to October 2014 additional donations to good causes have been estimated at between £17m & £22m.

England has now introduced a law that requires large shops in England to charge 5p for all single-use plastic carrier bags as well. Charging started on 5 October 2015. The move has been less well-received in England, with Westminster Ministers accused of instigating a tax grab after it emerged VAT will apply to sales of bags. This means the Treasury will pocket almost 1p for each one sold and estimates show it stands to make around £19 million a year.


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