Plastic Bag Charges Rising in Greece, But There’s An Out

(Photo by Eurokinissi/Sotiris Dimitropoulos, file)

ATHENS – Charging store customers 4 cents for plastic bags in a bid to reduce their use will more than double, to 9 cents, on Jan. 1, 2019 after environmentalist earlier had said it didn’t go far enough to stop the proliferation of plastic even cluttering the sea bottom now.

The government said it hoped that the increase would reduce the use per person of the bags in supermarkets and other stores to 90 by 2020 and 40 by 2025 but said businesses that use bags with a thickness of 50-70 microns could give them away free with no explanation how that would reduce the use of plastic.

Also, biodegradable and compostable bags will also be free, as will ones thinner than 15 microns although more retailers are selling reusable bags – some of them plastic – as well as cloth and fabric, since charges began on Jan. 1 this year for single use plastic.

The new regulation comes a year after environmentalists said charging a nominal amount for plastic bags wouldn’t deter enough customers nor lead them to use multiple-use carriers instead. Kiosks and open air markets are exempt.

Filippos Kirkitsos, founder and President of the Ecological Recycling Society, told the newspaper Kathimerini in December 2017 that, “There are too many exceptions. I don’t think we will see the 40 percent reduction the policy changes are aiming for.”.

There’s no all-out ban on plastic, more than a decade after markets promised to use biodegradable bags – which have also been found to release harmful substances into the air – and as Greeks shun paper or fabric bags.

“We will only start to see some real impact in 2019, but it won’t be enough. […] The data show that the average citizen uses 400 plastic bags per year, but that number could even be 500. That is just too many,” he said.

The bags are blamed for extensive environmental damage but the government had been slow to move toward the ban or force stores to charge customers even a minimal amount after howls from retailers.

In February this year though, the  Research Institute of Retail Consumer Goods (IELKA) said after only a month that the charge for plastic carrier bags had caused a decline in their use at supermarkets.

The group said it found at that time a 75-80 pct drop in the use of lightweight plastic bags in comparison with January 2017 although there’s been no report on whether more customers have reverted to the habit of using plastic bags.