ATHENS – A requirement that supermarkets and other stores charge customers 3 cents to use plastic bags, an attempt to discourage their use in favor of reusable bags, doesn’t go far enough, Greek environmentalists say, especially since kiosks and open air markets will be exempt from the regulation.
Filippos Kirkitsos, founder and President of the Ecological Recycling Society, told the newspaper Kathimerini he’s pessimistic about the impact of these new policies. “The 3-cent cost won’t have any significant impact on the use of plastic bags, and there are too many exceptions. I don’t think we will see the 40 percent reduction the policy changes are aiming for,” he said.
The cost per bag will jump to 7 cents in 2019 but there’s not an all-out ban, 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.
More than a decade after some supermarkets said they would use biodegradable shopping bags but didn’t, Greece’s government will require them and retail stores as of Jan. 1, 2018 to charge customers for plastic bags in a bid to rein in their use.
The bags are blamed for extensive environmental damage but the country has been slow to move toward the ban or force stores to charge customers even a minimal amount after howls from retailers.
The decision to ban free carrier bags is in line with a 2015 European Union directive aimed at limiting use per person to 90 bags a year by 2019 and 40 by 2025. It wasn’t explained why there isn’t an all-out ban given the damage the bags do, getting caught in trees and winding up in the sea where they are a danger to fish.
According to the Hellenic Recycling Agency (EOAN), in 2015 alone Greeks used between 242 and 363 plastic bags per person, while in the EU as a whole, use came to 98.6 billion plastic bags.
According to a report by the European Environment Agency, only 16 percent of all household waste in Greece is recycled – the rest ends up in landfills.
Greece has ignored repeated fines from the European Union for violating environmental and recycling laws and only 13 percent of household waste is recycled in Athens.
Kirkitsos said that, “The state needs to get organized and run a serious information campaign, not just an ad. We need to take collective action to communicate to the people why this behavior can’t go on. We have a huge responsibility to educate people, and convince them to change their daily habits. We don’t have a choice.”
That’s similar to other pleas from other environmental groups, all of which have been ignored as well as Greeks keep using plastic bags and governments keep letting them.