DSCN9143bag-crop-compr Recently, I read an article in the January 2011 issue of BioCycle reporting a ban on non-biodegradable plastic bags, which went into effect in Italy on January 1, 2011. A clause will allow shops to use bags they already have stockpiled until they run out, after which biodegradable plastic or paper or reusable cloth bags will be the only options.

Italians go through around a staggering 20 billion plastic bags a year and accounts for 20% of all plastic bags used in Europe. However, 200 of the 8000 Italian municipalities had already adopted plastic bags ban.

Some people worry that the country won’t be able to handle such an abrupt nationwide change. I can’t understand this concern and wonder what they think is going to happen, if shops aren’t allowed to supply plastic bags, but paper bags instead! If there is a cost increase for biodegradable or paper bags, they will just have to charge for these and it is amazing how introducing a small charge changes people’s attitude and makes everybody carry a reusable bag with them.

The article mentions Washington, DC’s case as an example of cuts on use of plastic bags by 85%, within a month, after a 5-cent fee was put in place last year. I think this is another good and simple idea that should be introduced across Europe, the USA and everywhere where there are shops, for that matter. I find that some shops in my area of the UK have been charging for plastic bags for a while now and, more recently, those that don’t charge usually ask before handing you a plastic bag. However, there are some that still automatically place your purchases in a plastic bag, but you can always stop them and politely say ‘I have my own bag, thank you!’

I have been using reusable bags for a while and have a compulsion to buying nice bags for re-use. My favourites are those pictured below: the first one folds into a tiny bag, which can easily fit into any handbag; the second one is another sturdier foldable one for heavier shopping; and the third one is my all-time favourite because it was made by my arty daughter and it is so sturdy I can carry 6 bottles of wine in it, without worrying that it will tear and collapse – and that alone surely is yet another very good reason to swop to using sturdy reusable bags!

A search of the Cabdirect database using the terms plastic bags and recycle returned 36 records, which can be accessed by subscribers of the database by following this link. These include an article by Mathu et al. on the carbon footprint of shopping bags and another by Halden entitled 'Plastics and health risks'.


Halden, R. U. (2010).  Plastics and health risks. Annual Review of Public Health Vol. 31 pp. 179-19.

Muthu, S. S.; Li, Y.; Hu, J. Y.; Mok, P. Y. (2011). Carbon footprint of shopping (grocery) bags in China, Hong Kong and India. Atmospheric Environment Vol. 45 No. 2 pp. 469-475.



  1. Coach Sneakers on 25th February 2011 at 1:04 am

    You may believe these four proverbs:
    Money is a good servant and a bad master .
    Money is like muck , not good except it be spread .
    Sometimes one pays most for the things one gets for nothing .
    No country , however rich , can afford the waste of its human resources .

  2. Roger Day on 25th February 2011 at 3:58 pm

    One of the reasons that Kigali (Rwanda) looks so clean must be the ban on plastic bags they’ve had since 2004. The head of the UN Environmental Programme recently commented on it. See

  3. Vera Barbosa on 25th February 2011 at 4:18 pm

    Thank you for your information on the subject Roger, which I’m pleased to hear about. It also added to my point that plastic bags should be on their way out from our shops. If Rwanda could achieve this, surely so can the big polluters, Europe, the USA and all many other ‘1st world’ nations. As the UNEP’s Secretary said “The fact that the tiny central African nation has succeeded in becoming plastic-bag free boils down to leadership, determination and a willingness to address issue.”

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