Since the late 1970s, plastic shopping bags have become a staple and an iconic image of shopping. They are such common place that people expect them to be readily available and think little of throwing them away or even discarding them on the ground.
The reality is that over the past 40 years plastic bag usage has skyrocketed and has caused drastic problems for natural ecosystems and even our health. Plastic bags are often eaten by animals, causing them to choke and die. Furthermore, they take an extremely long time to decompose, are produced using fossil fuels, and cost millions of dollars a year to clean up .
Even though the usage of plastic bags is still slowly on the rise, many countries have started to become aware of the environmental damage they can cause. Local communities, states, and even some countries have begun to take a strong stance on stopping plastic bag consumption and ending the pollution. These countries are role models for the change away from plastic shopping bags that the rest of the world needs to follow.
Countries that have banned plastic bags
The first country to ban plastic bags was Bangladesh in 2002. Since then many countries have begun to follow suit with country wide bans, local / partial bans, and taxes or disincentives on using plastic bags.
Below is a list of countries that currently have a ban, tax, or disincentive on the use of plastic bags [2,6].
Country wide ban of plastic bags
|Bangladesh||2002||All polythene bags were banned, but due to the lack of enforcement plastic bags are still widely used.|
|South Africa||2003||Plastic bags thinner than 30µ are banned and retailers must pay a fee for providing thicker ones. Poor enforcement in the country.|
|Ethiopia||2007||Plastic bags thinner than 30µ.|
|Rwanda||2008||All polyethylene bags were banned.|
|China||2008||Plastic bags thinner than 25µ and consumers must pay a fee for thick plastic bags.|
|Uganda||2009||Plastic bags thinner than 30µ. Problems with enforcement – plastic bags are still in use.|
|Bhutan||2009||Despite the ban, plastic bags are still used in the country.|
|Mongolia||2009||Plastic bags thinner than 25µ.|
|Zimbabwe||2010||Plastic bags thinner than 30µ and customers must pay a fee for thicker ones.|
|Cote d’Ivoire||2014||Plastic bags thinner than 50µ.|
|Italy||2014||Non-biodegradable plastic bags thinner than 100µ.|
|Malawi||2015||Plastic bags thinner than 60µ.|
|Niger||2015||Despite the ban, plastic bags are still in use.|
|Guinea-Bissau||2016||Retailers and consumers are opposed to the law.|
|Mauritius||2016||Certain types of bags are allowed, for example waste disposal bags. Production of plastic bags for export is allowed.|
|Morocco||2016||The country officials claim that the country is entirely plastic bag free.|
|Mozambique||2016||Plastic bags thinner than 30µ are banned.|
|Senegal||2016||Ban of plastic bags thinner than 30µ.|
|India||2016||Non-compostable plastic bags thinner than 50µ.|
|Antigua and Barbuda||2016|
|France||2016||All non-compostable bags.|
|Papua New Guinea||2016||All non-biodegradable bags.|
|Kenya||2017||The strictest ban with possible charge of 4 years imprisonment or up to $40,000 fine for selling or even carrying a plastic bag.|
|Tunisia||2017||Ban of single-use plastic bags in supermarkets.|
|Israel||2017||Plastic bags thinner than 20µ and consumers must pay for thicker bags.|
|Sri Lanka||2017||Polyethylene plastic bags thinner than 20µ.|
|Colombia||2017||Plastic bags smaller than 30 x 30 cm. Consumer tax on other types of single-use plastic bags.|
|Vanuatu||2018||Exception are bags to wrap meat and fish.|
Local ban of plastic bags
|Australia||2003 – 2018||Ban in Coles Bay, South Australia, Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory, Tasmania, Queensland.|
|Canada||2007 – 2018||Ban in Leaf Rapids & Thompson (Manitoba), Wood Buffalo and Montreal.|
|Egypt||2009||Ban in Hurghada.|
|Chad||2010||Ban in the capital city – N’Djamena.|
|Mexico||2010 – 2018||Only biodegradable bags are allowed in the Mexico City and banned in Queretaro.|
|Myanmar||2009 – 2011||Ban of thin plastic bags in Mandalay, Nay Pyi Taw & ban of polyethylene bags in Yangon.|
|Argentina||2009 – 2017||All non-biodegradable plastic bags thinner than 50µ in Buenos Aires and polyethylene bags in Cordoba.|
|Philippines||2011||Ban on using plastic bags for dry goods in Muntinlupa.|
|United States||2011 – 2017||Ban in American Samoa, Hawaii, California, Austin (Texas), Seattle (Washington), Boston (Massachusetts).|
|Pakistan||2013 – 2018||Ban of non-biodegradable bags in Punjab, in Sindh, Islamabad, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.|
|Chile||2014 – 2017||Polythene bags banned from Punta Arenas and coastal villages and towns.|
|Brazil||2015||Non-biodegradable plastic bags in Sao Paulo.|
|Somalia||2015||Ban in Somaliland.|
|Indonesia||2016||Ban in Banjarmasin.|
|Honduras||2016||Ban in Roatan, Utila and Guanaja.|
|Belgium||2016 – 2017||Non-compostable plastic bags thinner than 50µ are banned in Brussels region and in Wallonia.|
|Malaysia||2017||Non-biodegradable plastic bags banned in Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Labuan.|
|Ecuador||2017||Ban in the Galapagos Islands.|
|Guatemala||2017||Ban in San Pedro La Laguna, Cantel, Quetzaltenango and San Juan Sacatepequez|
|Spain||2017||Single-use bags are banned in Catalonia, including biodegradable bags.|
Tax or disincentive on plastic bags
|Denmark||1994||Consumers pay around $0.56 for plastic bags.|
|Ireland||2002||A fee of $0.26 per bag paid by consumers.|
|Botswana||2007||Tax paid by retailers.|
|Belgium||2007||Tax paid by consumers.|
|Brazil||2009||No tax, but retailers have obligation to reward customers for bringing a reusable bag. Retailers also have a responsibility to collect and properly dispose of plastic bags from customers. Enforced only in Rio de Janeiro.|
|Latvia||2009||Retailers obliged to pay the tax.|
|Malta||2009||Consumers are charged approximately $0.18 per bag.|
|Romania||2009||Consumers charged $0.06 for non-biodegradable plastic bags.|
|United States||2010||Consumers are charged $0.05 in Washington, D.C., Chicago, (Illinois), Boulder (Colorado), Brownswille (Texas), Montgomery County (Maryland), New York (N.Y.), Portland (Maine).|
|Malaysia||2011||Tax around $0.05 per bag paid by consumers in Penang State.|
|Bulgaria||2011||Tax paid by suppliers of polyethylene plastic bags thinner than 15µ. |
|Andalusia||2011||Consumers pay the tax of $0.12 per bag in Andalusia.|
|United Kingdom||2013||Consumers pay the tax of $0.07 per plastic bag.|
|Vietnam||2012||Tax on retailer for the use of non-biodegradable plastic bags. |
|Hungary||2012||Levy on supplier.|
|Croatia||2014||Tax paid by suppliers.|
|Portugal||2015||Suppliers’ tax passed on consumers – $0.12.|
|Indonesia||2016||Tax around $0.015 per bag paid by consumers in some cities.|
|Netherlands||2016||Consumers pay the tax from $0.30.|
|Estonia||2017||Consumers pay for plastic bags thinner than 50µ.|
|Fiji||2017||Consumers pay around $0.05.|
|Cyprus||2018||Consumers are charged a plastic bag fee of $0.06.|
|Czech Republic||2018||Consumers pay for bags thinner than 15µ.|
|Greece||2018||Consumers should pay $0.086 per plastic bag.|
|Lithuania||2018||Tax paid by consumers for plastic bags thinner than 50µ.|
|Slovakia||2018||Consumers’ tax on bags thinner than 50µ.|
How do plastic bags get banned?
Many of the countries on our list have only recently (within the last 15 years) begun to implement disincentives on the use of plastic bags. This change is largely due to the many local and international groups who have been increasing public awareness to the harm of plastics on the environment.
The invention of social media has been an excellent platform for these environmental groups to reach the public on a larger scale than before. People have started to become more aware of the environmental impacts of their daily life choices.
A successful campaign formula that has worked in many of the countries on our list begins with local and grassroots campaigns.
Starting at a local level allows the public to become involved. As the public’s opinion changes local officials begin to take note and those ideas start to be implemented on local and state levels. As more cities and states support the idea, national governments receive more pressure to make changes.
This specific formula is in the process of being used by the State of California in the United States. Local governments began banning the use of plastic bags as early as 2007 (San Francisco) and then the state banned plastic shopping bags in 2016. Currently, more and more US states or municipalities work on the introduction of a plastic bag ban.
Why do we have to pay for plastic bags?
An intermediate step to the complete ban of plastic bags is to impose a tax or fee on each bag people use from a store. This has shown to be very effective, with the usage of plastic bags in England dropping by nearly 90% after a 5 pence per bag fee was imposed in 2015.
Another great incentive is that the money that is collected through the tax is typically used directly to help the environment or help fund environmental programs.
The 5 pence fee in England is mostly given back to the retailers to donate to groups of their own choice. Some of the largest English retailers, like Tesco, have donated it to local governments for the creation of gardens and parks .
Reduce the use of plastic bags
As we talked about, the best way to create a change is by starting in local communities. This mean each person needs to make changes…just like you!
This has become easier in recent years and there are now many alternatives available. Here are a few easy to follow ideas to reduce your own use of plastic bags:
- When going to the grocery store, bring your own reusable bags. If what you’re buying is small enough, just skip a bag all together and carry it in your hands.
- If you do absolutely need to use a plastic grocery bag, don’t throw it away when you are finished, but save it and reuse it next time.
- Support local businesses that back environmentally conscious behaviors and don’t offer plastic bags at checkout.
- Educate yourself about the harm that plastic bags can cause the environment. Education is key in spreading awareness of the issue.
The main thing you need to consider when implementing these ideas is planning ahead. Spend an extra 30 seconds before you leave your house to grab your reusable bags.
Planning ahead is a common thread with almost all environmental issues. As a species we need to plan ahead to reduce our plastic bags and plastics usage to protect the natural environment for generations to come.