Greening Europe: Italy Bans Plastic Bags in Stores

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Customers fill their plastic shopping bags after shopping in a supermarket in Rome December 29, 2010. REUTERS/Alessia Pierdomenico

The battle against environmental degradation begins at the cash register.

Beginning January 1, a nationwide ban on plastic bags took effect with the goal of promoting more environmentally friendly bags made of fabric, recyclable paper or a special biodegradable plastic. Proponents of the move have argued that discarded polyethylene bags take years to break down, clog drains and quickly become eyesores and environmental hazards.

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Italians are among Europe’s biggest consumers of plastic bags. “Every year each Italian uses 400 plastic bags, and Italy in total is responsible for 25 percent of all plastic bags that are used and produced in Europe,” Eva Alessi, a spokeswoman for the World Wildlife Fund, told Euro News. Environmental rights group Legambiente estimates that the ban will reduce Italy’s carbon emissions by 180 million tons a year.

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The ban has been gaining momentum since 2006 when lawmakers first approved the legislation. But industry groups repeatedly delayed the introduction by suggesting the ban would create chaos in supermarkets and harm plastics manufacturers. (via AFP).