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Originally published May 26 2011

European Union may ban plastic shopping bags

by Neev M. Arnell

(NaturalNews) Following other California cities, including San Francisco, San Jose and Santa Barbara, Long Beach City Council is on the verge of enacting a citywide ban on plastic bags. Now, the European Union may follow suit.

It could be against the law for stores in the EU to stock them or there could be a new tax to discourage their use. Either way, the EU has declared war on shopping bags and the public response is far from favorable, with the public saying it is not necessary, is not going to work and is even patronizing.

Europeans use an average of 500 bags annually, most of which are not re-used, according to the EU Commission.

"Fifty years ago, the single-use plastic bag was almost unheard of. Now we use them for a few minutes and they pollute our environment for decades," said EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik. "That's why we are looking at all the options, including a Europe-wide ban on plastic carrier bags."

But angry retailers say either of the proposed options would hurt sales, while doing nothing to save the environment.

"A Europe-wide ban on bags is unnecessary," said Richard Dodd of the British Retail Consortium. "It is likely to alienate customers from the green agenda, which is the opposite of what the European Union is trying to do. It is not appropriate for the EU to get involved."

A ban would require people to remember to take their own bags each time they go shopping, which could put a dent in purchases from unplanned trips.

The news comes as retail sales saw the largest increase in 23 months, jumping by 1.1 per cent in April. Experts warn that, despite the increase, the retail sector's growth is still extremely fragile at this point. Banning plastic bags could impact the recovery by negatively affecting consumer spending.

"Retailers have been very successful already at working with customers on reducing the number of bags handed out," Dodd said. "This has been achieved on a voluntary basis and is the best way. Many people already carry their own bags around with them - but because they want to, not because they are being forced to. If you use the heavy hand of the law you're more likely to turn people off."

Others feel that the campaigns against bags in other countries have shown such a campaign will not even work to begin with. Plastic bags littered throughout Ireland were such a problem that plastic bags caught in trees had even garnered their own name, witches knickers. Similar laws to those now proposed by the EU came into effect in Ireland in 2002 and passed a tax on the bags onto consumers.

"In Ireland, they tried imposing charges on carrier bags," said UK Tory MP Philip Davies. "It was a complete failure that only helped to boost supermarket profits."

The public also feel that the ban is beyond the purview of the EU and is not something it should be micromanaging.

"Plastic bags are actually among the most recycled things in homes," said Jasmine Birtles of consumer advice service Money Magpie. "People re-use them again and again, whether for shopping, or as bin bags or for other uses ... This announcement by the EU is very patronizing. We don't need them to legislate on such things for us."

UK Independence Party Euro-MP Paul Nuttall agreed.

"Now we have the EU clambering on board demanding the right to tax or ban something that every single person uses," he said. "It is the height of arrogance."

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