ATHENS – With the cost of plastic bags at Greek supermarkets and retail stories more than doubling – from 4 to 9 cents – on Jan. 1, charging for them in 2018 led to a drop in usage of 85 percent in a bid to reduce the amount of plastic waste.
That assessment came from the Hellenic Recycling Agency (EOAN) which said even the small cost of buying thin plastic bags through a so-called ecotax brought a dramatic decline in how many were being used, the aim of the scheme.
Revenues from the levy, which was introduced to help reduce litter and protect wildlife, are estimated at 7.7 million euros ($8.8 million), the data showed, said Kathimerini. The charges were required under a 2015 European Union directive but took Greece three years to implement.
The project requires governments to ensure that by the end of 2019, no more than 90 single-use bags are consumed annually per person. By the end of 2025, that number should drop to 40 bags each. It is estimated that the average Greek used more than 300 plastic bags in 2017.
The rise from 4 to 9 cents was expected to further drop the use of the thinner plastic single-use bags that were littering landfills and the seas, with the cost driving more people to bring their own to the stores or seek alternatives such as fabric bags for multiple use.
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 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.