Are plastic bags on the way out in Germany?

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Are plastic bags on the way out in Germany?
A man carrying filled plastic bags in Rostock in December 2018. Photo: DPA

Stuffing groceries at a plastic bag at the cash register is becoming an increasingly outdated model in Germany, statistics released on Friday show.


Last year, plastic bag use in Germany stood at 24 bags per capita - or five fewer than in the previous year, according to the Gesellschaft für Verpackungsmarktforschung (Society for Packaging Market Research).

"The Germans are increasingly shying away from plastic bags," Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze (SPD) told DPA. The figures represent a large dip from 2016, when usage was still at 45 bags per capita.

The decline can be attributed to a growing number of retailers no longer handing out plastic carrier bags to customers for free, but rather demanding money - usually 10 cents - for them. 

In April 2016, the German government furthermore signed an agreement with the retail industry to curb the use of plastic bags.

SEE ALSO: How Germany's environment minister plans to turn around plastic use

There's been a huge decline in the last decades. In 2000, seven billion plastic bags were used, or more than three times as many as today, according to data from Statista.

Chart prepared for The Local by Statista

"My goal is to reduce plastics consumption to a reasonable level," added Schulze, stating she would also like to see less plastic packaging on fruits and vegetables.

According to information from the German Trade Association (HDE), about 350 companies have signed an agreement with the Federal Environment Ministry about phasing out the use of plastic bags.

"Many large retail chains have now completely abolished the plastic bag," said HDE head Stefan Genth. 

However, the very thin bags that are often used for fruit and vegetables are not part of the agreement. 

Some retail chains have already introduced initiatives and test runs aimed at reducing plastic. REWE, for example, has started labeling products such as avocados and bananas with a laser light rather than plastic.

The EU also set bloc-wide standards for plastic bags, but these only apply to those with a thickness of less than 50 micrometres. By 2025, they aim to have plastic bag usage at 40 bags per person, per year - a goal which Germany has already surpassed. 

The EU is banning other plastic items such as cutlery, plates and cotton swabs: Such articles, which show up on beaches and disrupt sea life, will no longer be sold from 2021.

SEE ALSO: EU parliament votes to ban single use plastics

In February, Schulze had met with sales representatives for a round table about how to avoid plastic, which she said will result in new laws to be announced this autumn.


Plastic bag - (Die) Plastiktüte

Use per capita - Pro-Kopf-Verbrauch

Packaging waste - (Das) Verpackungsmüll

Cutlery - (Das) Besteck

Tell us in the comments: How are you trying to cut down on plastic usage?


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