Yolanda Simonsis is a 38-year veteran of the packaging and converting industries. She has held past editorial positions with two former publications of Delta Communications and Cahners...more

Europe Faces Plastic Bag Bans

My last blog entry focused on the introduction of both plastic and paper bag bans in Evanston, IL, a nearby suburb of Chicago where I live. My headline then was: “Silly–Another Bag Ban.” Well, today I received a shared press release to the industry from Heike Richter who handles the communication & public relations for IK Industrieverinigung Kunststoffverpackungen, the German Association for Plastic Packagings & Films, announcing that the European Commission appears to be aiming for a ban on plastic carrier bags in Europe. So from Evanston to Europe, we seem to have leapfrogged from local to GLOBAL silliness.

Ulf Kelterborn, general director of IK Industrieverinigung Kunststoffverpackungen, issued a statement on behalf of the associationi that I believe warrants sharing:

IK-statement on a possible European ban of plastic carrier bags EU-Commissioner Potocnik apparently aims for a ban of carrier bags made from conventional plastics. At least it seems this way with the way the EU commission is currently running an Europe-wide survey, amongst other things.

The explanation accompanying the survey contains incomprehensible claims. According to this, each and every EU citizen is supposed to be using up to 850 plastic bags per year, however, no statistical proof for this is given.

This inadequate knowledge is also shown by the fact that EU experts are assuming a plastic bag rapidly degrading in nature, and therefore demand a differentiation between biodegradability and compostability.

The EU commission does not seem to be aware of the fact that currently, there are no plastic bags available which dissolve within a short period of time in nature without any outside influences. On the contrary, these plastic bags only dissolve in the course of a specific industrial composting process. This raises the question whether the term biodegradability should be defined more precisely.

The EU survey is unstructured and does not deal with this issue in any way. It mostly asks suggestive questions, which can only have one major aim: A Europe-wide ban of plastic carrier bags in order to avoid waste–at least this is the thinking of the EU-commission.

Regarding the topic of avoiding waste, the relevant knowledge of the EU commission is insufficient. Plastic carrier bags commonly consist of high quality, pure polyethylene, a plastic than can be recycled very well. Therefore, the polyethylene bag is not a waste product after use, but a valuable raw material. One prerequisite is, however, that it is correctly collected within recycling systems. For this purpose, the EU has developed a packaging directive, specifying corresponding quotas for collection and recycling. However, it would be a lot more effective if the implementation of this regulation was demanded and checked correspondingly by Brussels.

Germany has got a collection and recycling system that works excellently. Over 90 percent of plastic bags are collected and recycled correspondingly. The recycling share of plastic bags is continuously increasing. A possible ban would punish those countries which have previously been model implementers of the EU packaging directive. The ban of conventional plastic bags in Italy has only shown that the Italian government is not capable to guarantee a proper disposal- and recycling system. With the exclusive permission of so-called biodegradable materials, the message to the population is: “Go on as you did before, just throw used plastic bags away.“ This approach is counter productive. By privileging so-called biodegradable materials, the EU commission equally promotes the idea that it is “ok to throw away bags without having a guilty conscience.“

It would be preferable to enlighten the population to collect carrier bags and recycle them correctly. This is also valid for all other product areas. We only can protect the environment and save resources if we collect as many products as possible and recycle them. Europe’s population should be made aware of this.

In addition, plastic bags can be used several times without any problems. They are commonly reused packages and eventually often end up as bin bags. This use immediately contributes to a reduction. In Germany, the consumer usually pays a fee covering the cost for disposal and recycling.

Therefore, a ban of plastic bags made from conventional polyethylene or a legally required reduction is not the right way forward. We urge the people in charge within the EU commission to objectively evaluate the fact and to refrain from purely populist measures.

Finally we would like to establish that, irrespectively of degradability, a fair open market competition between plastic carrier bags made from conventional plastic and those of renewable resources is perfectly desirable.

Bad Homburg, June 22, 2011

Does anyone bother to check their facts before they make insane knee-jerk reactions such as this? AGAIN I say. . . It’s about changing our lifestyle, Folks! How hard is it to place a used bag in a store recycling container? Probably no harder than refraining from throwing a cigarette butt, chewing gum or hamburger wrapper out the car window.

Where is the sanity in all this “wasted” effort?

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