Eighteen months into the introduction of reforms to reduce the volume of plastic bags used in Greece, a press released by environmental groups released on International Plastic Bag-Free Day on Wednesday claims that Greeks may actually be using more plastic than before, while supermarkets are “sidestepping” an environmental levy designed to ‘offset’ their use.
The measures introduced on January 1, 2018 banned supermarkets and other retailers from supplying free ‘thin’ plastic bags to customers and obliged them to charge for the plastic bags they supplied.
According to a press release from the Marine Environment Cooperation Network and the A.C. Laskaridis Charitable Foundation, however, supermarkets replaced the ‘thin’ bags with thicker bags containing more plastic, while the money charged for the thicker bags goes directly into the pockets of businesses and entrepreneurs since their price does not include the environmental tax.
The net result, based on environment ministry figures and a study conducted by the Research Institute of Retail Consumer Goods (IELKA), is that consumers have effectively traded a habit of ‘thin’ bags for thick bags, without any real reduction in the number of bags or the use of plastic.
According to the press release, the environmental levy introduced in 2018 was only imposed on plastic bags with a thickness of less than 50 μm, while the price set for bags with a thickness of 50-70 μm did not include this fee. During the first three months of 2018, the Independent Authority for Public Revenue collected 15,506,584 euros from the fee, corresponding to 516,886,140 plastic bags.
Subsequently, the thin plastic bags were tending to be discontinued and were found to be available in only five of 13 sales points checked, while all supermarkets had replaced them with thick ‘reusable’ bags over 50 μm. Many shops were also charging the environmental fee for bags that were actually thicker than 50 μm, so this was not paid to the state but going into their own pockets. Thus, while there was an 80 pct reduction in the use of thin plastic bags in large chains and supermarkets and a 60 pct reduction in other stores, there were no reliable figures on actual plastic bag use save those published by the retail sector.
The announcement concluded by noting that the environmental fee is tending to become exclusively a source of revenue for retailers, rather than compensatory revenue for the state, while the collection of statistics in Greece has once again fallen short, endangering the marine environment. It also pointed out that many things could be done to change behaviour and reduce dependence on plastic in daily life, starting with the correct implementation of the existing measures.
For successful implementation of the reforms for restricting plastic bag use, it said, Greece must incorporate directives on disposable plastic and also ensure that the public is well informed, while engaging with citizens and interested parties at all stages of formulating and implementing legislation and policy.