The environment is suffering

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The figures make your head spin: every year, the world produces 300 million tonnes of plastic, 10 % of which ends up in the oceans. In Europe alone, 17 billion plastic bags are used annually, 8 billion of which end up abandoned in nature. 

The production and use of plastic bags has a significant impact on our health and our environment. The particles that make up plastic bags can enter the water cycle and the food chain, and end up on our dinner plates. Virtual continents of plastic have been massed together by the ocean currents, the largest of which, in the northern Pacific, is 3 times the size of France.

At a European level, the Directive (EU) 2015/720 of 29 April 2015 tackles the problem head on: Member States will have to legislate to reduce the annual use of lightweight plastic bags in their country to a maximum of 90 bags per person by the end of 2019 and 40 bags per person by the end of 2025. Very lightweight plastic bags (less than 15 microns) are excluded from these requirements. The directive also provides for specific labelling for biodegradable and compostable bags, to be defined by the European Commission. This directive has to be enacted into their national law by Member States before 27 November 2016.

Some States have already taken the lead. From 1 January 2016, France will ban non-reusable plastic bags from checkouts. “Fruits and vegetable” bags, for their part, will be banned from 1 January 2017.

In Belgium, a decree could shortly ban the use of plastic bags throughout Wallonia. But it is primarily at a local level that concrete initiatives are being seen.  In fact, in Brussels, the municipalities of Jette and Anderlecht are showing the way. From January 2016, plastic bags will be banned from markets, shops and supermarkets in the municipality of Jette. Anderlecht, for its part, has put in place a plan to phase out the distribution of plastic bags in its markets, with a ban on single-use plastic bags taking effect in stages from 1 January 2016, depending on the category of products.

These bans will force retailers and consumers to change their habits and adjust their behaviour. Perhaps we will see a return to the good old willow basket in our marketplaces?

Alternatives to plastic bags are being investigated: oxo-degradable bags, bags made from recycled plastic, biodegradable bags based on corn starch or made from bioplastic produced from marine bacteria, etc. But the alternatives to single-use are not neutral in environmental terms and are often expensive.

Many consumers are hoping for genuinely ecological and sustainable solutions.

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