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 the use of plastic bags. These countries are role models for the change away from plastic bags that the rest of the world needs to follow.
Countries that have banned plastic bags
The first country to implement a full ban on plastic bags was Belgium in 2007. 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 some countries that currently have a ban, tax, or disincentive on the use of plastic bags .
Country wide ban
- Belgium (2007)
- Myanmar (2009)
- Italy (2011)
- Mauritania (2013)
- Morocco (2015)
- France (2016 = only bags below 50 µm in thickness)
- Kenya (2017)
Local or state ban
- India (2002)
- Bangladesh (2002)
- South Africa (2004)
- Chad (2005)
- Eritrea (2005)
- China (2008)
- Mexico (2010)
- Congo (2014)
- Ethiopia (2016)
- Botswana (2017)
- United States
Tax or disincentive
- Denmark (2005 = 0.25 to 0.5 Euro/bag)
- Wales (2011 = 0.05 Euro/bag)
- England (2015 = 0.05 Euro/bag)
- Indonesia (2016 = 0.01 Euro/bag
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 bags in 2016. Currently 16 out of the 50 US states have plastic bag bans in place [3,5].
Each year this number increases and hopefully in the next few years the U.S. will have a country wide ban in place.
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!
As consumers, it is our responsibility to make the environmentally conscious decision to not use plastic bags when they are offered.
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 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.