Quercus has called for a total ban on all plastic bags in Portugal where two billion are used each year, many of which end up littering the land and polluting the sea.
Despite the astounding drop in use of plastic bags in the country, an estimated 70%, Quercus has urged the Government to take urgent steps, once and for all, to ban the use of plastic bags.
On the eve of ‘International Plastic Bag Free Day’ on Monday July 3rd, the president of Quercus, João Branco, warned of the need for the Government to go the next step as just taxing their use will not get rid of the problem of bags littering and harming the environment and wildlife.
Branco said that the previous Government's measure to tax plastic bags "was initially positive", but added that "it quickly turned out to be insufficient," as after an initial decrease in the use of plastic bags, the Portuguese "have become accustomed to paying for bags and their consumption again is increasing."
Quercus says the taxing of plastic bags never included the bags used inside supermarkets to pack fruit, vegetables or meat, which in practice means that each consumer can end up using dozens of free plastic bags when going shopping.
Moreover, according to João Branco, the control of bags was "never effective" in small shops, fairs and markets.
"The bottom line is that it is a license to pollute and that is not what we want. We do not want people who pay to pollute, what we want is that people can’t pollute with plastic bags," said Branco.
In his view, "the situation is serious, especially as there are recent studies showing the existence of plastic waste in both fish and salt consumed."
The environmentalist said that "the harmful effects of plastic bags on the environment, especially in the marine environment, have been proven and widely publicised, with poisoning and suffocation leading to the death of fish, animals and seabirds."
The Quercus elader says there are no excuses and cites Morocco as a good example of where plastic bags are not used.
On a visit to Morocco for the last United Nations climate conference held in Marrakech in 2016, João Branco said, "I was amazed at the ease with which Moroccan society lives without using plastic bags. This is visible in the streets because of the absence of bag litter," adding that if Morocco managed to ban plastic bags, "there is no reason why they should not be banned in Portugal."
How do some European countries deal with this environmental scourge?
In November 2013, the European Commission published a proposal aiming to reduce the consumption of lightweight (thickness below 50 microns) plastic carrier bags.
Under the proposal, EU member states can choose the most appropriate measures to discourage the use of plastic bags. On 16 April 2014 the European Parliament passed a directive to reduce plastic bag use by 50% by 2017 and 80% by 2019.
In 2003, Denmark introduced a tax on retailers giving out plastic bags. This encouraged stores to charge for plastic bags and pushed the use of reusable bags. It was thought that this saved about 66% of plastic and paper bags. In 2004, a similar law was passed by the Inatsisartut in Greenland, which applied a recycling tax on plastic bags. By 2014 Denmark had the lowest plastic bag use in Europe, with 4 bags per person per year, compared to 466 in Portugal, Poland and Slovakia.
Following a National Assembly vote on October 11, 2014, France banned plastic carrier bags under 50 microns starting July 1, 2016. Produce bags are banned starting January 1, 2017. Re-usable or compostable bags are allowed.
Germany imposes a fee on excess packaging through its Green Dot program, which included plastic bags. In addition, all stores in Germany that provide plastic bags must pay a recycling tax.
Ireland introduced a €0.15 tax in March 2002. Levied on consumers at the point of sale, this led to 90% of consumers using long-life bags within a year. The tax was increased to €0.22 in 2007. The revenue is put into an Environment Fund.
In January 2011, Italy banned the distribution of lightweight plastic bags that are not from biodegradable sources.
The Netherlands implemented a comprehensive ban on free plastic shopping bags on January 1, 2016. The ban has a small number of exemptions for unpacked food products which are exposed to possible contamination, such as fresh fruit. The target price for a plastic bag is €0.25.
A law was introduced in 2006 (law 578/2006) - and was later modified in 2011 (law 1032/2011) - that puts a mandatory tax on non-biodegradable plastic bags. The modification in 2011 reduced the tax on plastic bags and was regarded by some as a step backwards from environmental protection.
In 2016, the two largest chains of supermarkets in Switzerland, the Federation of Migros Cooperatives and Coop, announced that they will progressively stop to distribute free plastic bags (at the check-out). Both distributors announced that they will not make money with paid bags, but that profits from their sale will be invested in environmental projects.
Migros preciously tested the measure in the Canton of Vaud since 2013: they reduced the number of plastic bags distributed by ninety percent (and saved 100,000 francs per year). Migros will be the first to introduce the measure across the country, on 1 November 2016 (the bags will be made with recycled plastic and cost 0.05 Swiss francs each). Coop plans to introduce this in 2017.
United Kingdom: Wales
Wales introduced a legal minimum charge of 5 pence for almost all single use bags in October 2011. Paper and biodegradable bags are included in the charge as well as plastic bags, with only a few specific exemptions – such as for unpackaged food or medicine supplied on an NHS prescription. VAT raised from the charge is collected by the government. Retailers are asked to pass the rest of the proceeds on to charities. July 2012 statistics released by the Welsh Government suggested that carrier bag use in Wales had reduced 96% since the introduction of the charge.
Northern Ireland introduced a 5 pence levy on almost all single use bags on 8 April 2013. The levy will be extended to reusable carrier bags with a retail price of less than 20 pence from 19 January 2014 as data from a number of retailers indicate that reusable bag sales have increased by 800% since the introduction of the levy on single use bags. The proceeds of the levy (£4.17m in 2013/14) are paid to the Department of the Environment and used to fund local environmental projects and enforce the levy. Official statistics for the Northern Ireland levy show that the number of single use bags dispensed fell from around 300 million in 2012/13 to 84.5 million in 2013/14 – a reduction of 72%.
A five pence minimum charge for single-use carrier bags came into force in Scotland on 20 October 2014. The proceeds of the charge can be used by the retailers as they see fit. VAT will be collected by the government on every bag sold, although retailers are encouraged to pledge to donate proceeds to "good causes". The charge is not exclusive to plastic bags, and includes those which are biodegradable. Bags for unpackaged food, loose seeds, soil-contaminated goods, axes, knives or blades; drugs or medical appliances; small packaged uncooked fish, meat or poultry; aquatic animals; purchases made in aerodrome security restricted areas; or goods bought on board a ship, train, aircraft, coach or bus will be exempt from the charge.
England introduced a five pence minimum charge for single use plastic bags on 5 October 2015. It applies to retailers with more than 250 employees. Unlike the rest of the UK, the English charge does not apply to paper bags or bags made from other natural materials. As with the other nations, VAT raised on sales will be collected by the Government. Retailers can choose how the money raised from bag sales is used. The Government is however planning on publishing information yearly on the scheme, encouraging retailers to donate the proceeds to charities.
In the first 6 months, 640 million plastic bags were used in seven major supermarkets in England, which should have raised £32 million, for which no recipient charities have yet been identified. England reported to have distributed .6 billion single-use bags during the first half year of the charge. That is 7 billion bags less than the amount of bags that were distributed in 2014.
The Climate Change Act 2008 served as the legislative framework for the regulation of plastic bags in the United Kingdom.To promote the growth of new businesses in England, retailers with less than 250 employees are exempt from the charge. Opponents to the exemption of small retailers argue that this exemption will diminish the environmental impact of the charge.
England is the last country in the United Kingdom to adopt the 5 pence charge. Prior to the introduction of plastic bag regulations, various retailers participated in voluntary actions to reduce plastic bag consumption.