Pricing all bags, an exploration of options for banning free issue of bags of any material

Spurred by the European Parliament’s intention to drastically reduce the use of plastic bags across Europe (EU Directive 2015/720), on January 1st, 2016 a ban on free issue of such bags by retailers came into force in the Netherlands (Regeling beheer verpakkingen; IENM/BSK-2015/242582). The fact that the ban on free shopping bags applies only to plastic bags creates the impression that other kinds of bag are better for the environment. This leads to unfair competition in the bag market, while research shows that bags made of other materials are not eco-friendlier.  Initial market indications are that the number of plastic shopping bags issued has already dropped considerably as a result of this measure, by between 50 and 95% (average, around 60%). There are also signals from the market that the ban on free issue of plastic bags has led to increased use of bags made of other materials, including paper.

By implementing a measure to price bags made of any material the government can demonstrate to the population that it is truly reducing the environmental footprint of bag use in its entirety. In addition, it signals to citizens the relevance of reducing use of all resources, thus doing justice to the notion of a circular economy.