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Transition period planned: An end to plastic bags is coming closer

Transition period planned : An end to plastic bags is coming closer

Cloth bags, backpacks or mesh bags - but not plastic bags: Germany is on course to ban plastic bags at stores and shops. Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze's bill was passed by the federal cabinet.

It's about the typical bags that you get when paying in the supermarket - it’s not about garbage bags or others that are not intended for packaging. Thin bags for fruit or vegetables, for example, are permitted, as are more stable bags.

"Plastic bags are the epitome of wasting resources: they are made from crude oil and often only used for a few minutes," said SPD politician Svenja Schulze in Berlin. The ban would send a signal against the throw-away mentality. Although the use of the plastic bags that will be affected by the ban has decreased, 1.6 billion pieces per year are still used in Germany. "More and more people are getting used to having reusable bags with them," Schulze said, adding that paper bags are not a good alternative, bags should be reusable.

So-called biodegradable bags are also to be banned. They are a "real deceptive packaging" and more plastic than organic, Schulze said. They often cannot be recycled, and the cultivation of plants for plastics production is often associated with the use of pesticides and monocultures.

There is an exception for the bags used at fruit and vegetable stands and this is for environmental reasons, Schulze explained. "If we prohibited this, we would get much more packaging." Then, for example, apples and pears would come more heavily packaged in plastic. They are talking with people in the industry about alternatives such as reusable mesh nets. The plastic bag ban is only one element in the fight against too much plastic waste. Bans on disposable plastics are also coming from Brussels: from 2021 onwards, the sale of plastic plates and cutlery and plastic straws, among other things, will be taboo in the EU.

Schulze had initially not planned a ban on plastic bags

Following the cabinet decision, the Bundestag must consider the proposal for the new law. Once it has passed the Bundestag and Bundesrat, there will be a six-month transitional period for the bags, so that shops can hand out remaining stock to customers. The individual states are responsible for enforcement, with penalties of up to 100,000 euros for infringements of the law.

Schulze had initially not planned a ban on plastic bags. Since 2016 there has been a voluntary commitment on the part of retailers not to hand over plastic bags at the till free of charge. Total consumption fell from 68 per capita in 2015 to 24 last year.

"The ban on plastic bags deceives consumers into thinking they are behaving ecologically by using alternatives such as paper bags," criticized FDP environmental politician Judith Skudelny. The federal government must figure out which kind of bags perform best.

Environmental Action Germany (Deutsche Umwelthilfe) praised the ban, saying it was "an important contribution to waste avoidance and to the prevention of waste getting into the environment," said recycling expert Thomas Fischer.

Orig. text: Teresa Dapp, dpa

Translation: ck