THE EUROPEAN Union may soon impose a directive making it obligatory for member states to place restrictions on the number of plastic bags offered by shops, because of the environmental damage they cause. 

From 2010-02-10 Vati

Whilst the move can’t come too soon for local environmentalists, it might prove a tough sell for kiosks, bakeries and supermarkets whose staff regularly hand out plastic bags for the smallest of items.

“We want businesses to promote reusable bags, this is very important,” said Environment Commissioner Charalambos Theopemptou, adding that plastic bags are cause for great concern among environmentalists.

“I did the rounds and spoke to all the supermarket chains about this and a few have already done this.”

He said that the European Commission had just completed a public consultation on whether plastic bags should fall under a special directive. “This is so that we have a special law on plastic bags and the restrictions are no longer voluntary but enforced by law,” said Theopemptou.

After being assigned this story, I carried out a small survey on the amount of plastic bags that are sometimes forced on buyers. My conclusion was that bakeries are the biggest offenders. While it’s commonly agreed that warm stuff can’t go in with cold stuff, what is to stop a carton of milk going in with the cured meats and halloumi? And why can’t a loaf of bread share the same bag as a cheese pie?

Similarly, supermarket shoppers and packers alike use far more than necessary, while kiosks aren’t far behind.

In just half an hour monitoring a checkout for one of the big supermarkets, I noted an average of 25 bags dished out for full trolley loads, and in some cases bags were used for a single item like a fabric conditioner or box of cereal.

All supermarkets claimed they used Oxo Biodegradable bags, which have added amounts of metal salts that speed up the degradation process. This means the bags take a shorter amount of time to degrade than normal ones.

But Theopemptou said these weren’t much better as even though they disintegrate into tiny pieces, they still remain in the environment.

“I would rather supermarkets didn’t offer any plastic bags at all, but offer reusable ones for consumers to buy and use,” said Theopemptou.

According to the commissioner, once disposed of, it can take up to 100 years for plastic bags to be completely destroyed. They are also very flammable, making landfills a high-risk attraction for fires. “If a fire starts, it could lead to a disaster,” he explained.

“Then there is the great damage they cause if they end up in the sea,” said Theopemptou. “Fish get confused and think it is food. If they eat it and die, the fish decomposes and the nylon comes out again smaller and then another fish eats it; and so it goes on.”

Apart from stores IKEA and LIDL, where shoppers need to pay for their bags, the island’s main supermarkets have only just started offering the option of purchasing ecological, reusable canvas bags, which consumers can buy and reuse at will.

George Theodotou, marketing manager at supermarket chain AlphaMega, said the supermarket was the first to introduce the ecological Oxo Biodegradable bags to the island. “We have also introduced the scheme where you can purchase the ecological canvas bags, which can be reused,” said Theodotou.

A spokesman for Athienitis supermarkets said they too used the biodegradable bags, as well as offering environmentally friendly reusable plastic bags.

The spokesman for Athienitis, as well as AlphaMega and the Orphanides chain were not in a position to offer exact amounts they spend on plastic bags a year.

“We don’t know how much is spent on them a year, but maybe this is something we should look into,” said Athienitis’ spokesman.

Moving more in line with Theopemptou’s views, Swedish store IKEA doesn’t offer plastic bags, but sells reusable and environmentally friendly ones instead.

“In IKEA we don’t give out bags to our customers because we say that we don’t add the value of bags on our products,” said a member of the store’s marketing department in Nicosia. “So if someone wants to use a bag they must pay extra.”

IKEA’s large paper bag costs 30 cents, while the reusable “bluebag” costs 89 cents.

“Both bags are recyclable and the bluebag can be washed and reused time and time again,” said the employee. “Our main effort is to protect the environment.”

Lidl offers normal plastic bags at three cents each. “Yes, we do charge for carrier bags - at Lidl you only pay for what you get,” the store says on its official website. “We also encourage customers to recycle their bags. This helps to protect the environment.” 


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