FocusPlastics converters complain to EU over Italy bag ban

25 January 2011 10:14  [Source: ICIS news]

By Linda Naylor

Plastics converters unhappy about Italy bag banLONDON (ICIS)--Italians are preparing to find alternative means of carrying home their shopping following the introduction of a new law which bans the use of non-biodegradable single-use plastic bags, but the plan is not without its difficulties, sources said on Tuesday.

The law, which came into effect on 1 January 2011, allows shops to give existing stocks to their customers free of charge, but consumers can no longer expect to get a free bag once these are depleted.

The move has been welcomed by environmental groups, like Legambiente, which estimates that plastic bag usage has reached 300 per capita annually in Italy, or about a fifth of the 100bn plastic bags used annually across Europe, according to business publication Environmental Leader.

Sources estimate the Italian plastic bag industry to be using between 200,000 and 250,000 tonnes/year of polyethylene (PE) - low density PE (LDPE), high density PE (HDPE) and linear low density PE (LLDPE).

“This law will punish some converters and reward others,” said an Italian PE seller. “Shopper [shopping bag] producers will clearly be affected, but manufacturers of bin bags will be very happy. Consumption of these will soar.”

When Ireland levied a 15 euro cent tax on single-use plastic bags in 2002, bag usage fell immediately by more than 90%, from an annual level of 328 plastic bags per capita to just 21. By 2007, per capita consumption had risen to 31 a year, and the tax was lifted again, to 22 euro cents.

“This had an immediate benefit to our environment – with a decrease in excess of 95% in plastic bag litter. Surveys indicated that up to 90% of shoppers used long-life bags in 2003, compared with 36% in 1999,” said Dick Roche, environment minister at the time.

French consumption of plastic bags was also down following legal measures in 2002. According to the government, 10.5bn plastic bags were distributed in French supermarkets in 2002. This fell to 1.5bn in 2009, down 85%.

Referring to the Italian legislation, the country's Environment Minister Stefania Prestigiacomo said: “This marks a step forward in the fight against pollution and it makes us all more responsible in terms of recycling.”

However, a producer source said: “One of the problems this law will create is that people haven’t had enough time to prepare. There are only two or three producers of compostable plastics in Italy and they have nowhere near enough capacity to fill the gap that will be result from this law.”

The source added: “I estimate that they have 70,000-80,000 tonnes/year capacity, and not all of that is used for making bags.”

Plastics converters were not going to take the new law lying down, however.

“We have lodged a complaint against this ban with the European Commission and we shall make every effort to challenge this legislation from a legal point of view,” said Alexandre Dangis, managing director of the EuPc (European Plastics Converters) in a statement.

He also questioned the legality of the move, arguing that there was not sufficient scientific reasoning behind it.

Italy is not the only country targeting reduced plastic bag usage. Welsh environment minister, Jane Davidson, said that Wales would be levying a charge for plastic bags, in a press release issued by the Welsh Assembly

“In Wales alone we still collectively managed to use more than 400m carrier bags last year [2009]. Most of these bags end up clogging up the cupboard under the stairs, shoved in the boot of our cars, littering our countryside or rotting in landfill and releasing harmful greenhouse gasses into the environment.”

Togo is also thinking along the same lines, and said on 12 January that it will outlaw the import and sale of plastic bags from July in order to protect the environment.

"These bags have become truly disastrous for the environment...The public must know that a plastic bag is not biodegradable and that they need at least 400 years to decompose," said trade ministry official Mohamed Saad Sama.

More than 3bn plastic bags are used every year by residents in Togo’s capital Lome, according to estimates by green group Pour Un Avenir Ensoleille.

In September 2010, California lawmakers rejected a law which would restrict plastic bag usage in the state. Some Californian towns are already reported to ban single-use plastic bags, and this law would have been the first state-wide ban. Californians are estimated to use 19bn plastic bags a year. Opponents of the bill argued that the ban went too far to regulate personal choice.

As the debate over whether banning plastic bags altogether continues, one major European PE producer is working on a solution, warning of the dangers of a knee-jerk ban.

“Compostable and biodegradable bags can cause as many problems as they are meant to solve if not disposed of properly,” said a company source. “They can create methane. There has to be an environmental solution and we are working on the renewable side of things.”

“Are the Italians going to solve the world’s problems by banning the plastic bag? No they are not. Plastic bags are here to stay. They’re just not going away.”

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By: Linda Naylor
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