The Italian Almanac

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polluting bag

Extend the Ban

Italy's ban on non-biodegradable plastic shopping bags could be extended to other parts of Europe after the EU's Environment Commissioner said he wanted to study similar measure for all 27 EU member states. Italy banned plastic bags as of January 1 to stop the lasting pollution they cause to the air, sea, rivers and forests, with research showing they remain in the environment as potential traps for wildlife for 15 to 1,000 years.

''Current industrial trends are unsustainable. The effects on the environment of the massive use of plastic bags, above all on the sea, are clear to everyone,'' said Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik. Environmental organizations welcomed the prospect of the Italian lead being followed at the European level. ''Potocnik's intention to study similar measures gives hope for the future of the environment and, above all, for the future of the Mediterranean, where it is estimated that 500 tonnes of plastic waste are floating,'' said Stefano Ciafani of Italy's Legambiente.

Italians had been using a total of 20 billion plastic shopping bags every year before the ban came into force. Shops and supermarkets now provide customers with biodegradable bags, although some outlets are still finishing off their stocks of plastic bags, with the government's blessing.

Producer associations have criticized the ban, arguing that the EU does not have specific regulations prohibiting plastic shopping bags and that they are not a threat to the environment because they can be recycled. They have also pointed out that alternative, biodegradable shopping bags break more easily and are much more expensive. Legal challenges to have the ban lifted in Italy and at the EU level have so far been unsuccessful though.

Italian Environment Minister Stefania Prestigiacomo expressed pride that ''Italy was the first country to implement a law which other member states, starting with Austria, have requested information about in order to imitate it''.