Italy Dumps Plastic Bags with Europe's First Nationwide Ban

ROME, Italy — [Editor's note: A previous version of this story's headline incorrectly said Italy's ban was the world's first nationwide ban. It is the first such ban in Europe.]

The only plastic bags that will be available in Italy will soon be biodegradable versions, since a ban on plastic bags went into place Jan. 1.

Stores in Italy, which uses 20 billion bags a year (one-fifth of all European use), will be able to give out their remaining plastic bags, but once they're gone, they can only offer paper, biodegradable plastic or cloth bags.

Of the more than 8,000 municipalities in Italy, around 200 already has plastic bag bans. 

News reports from European outlets are rife with concern that the country won't be able to handle such a sudden change, and they also worry the biodegradable and paper alternatives will be an annoyance if they are seen as weaker than plastic bags.

Reports the Guardian:

"We are not prepared to face such a cultural change," says Florence lawyer Giampaolo Pagnini. "We should take it slowly, because we do not have the cultural background to know how to deal with this. It took us ages to adapt to wearing a seatbelt when that law came into effect." Antonella d'Antoni, who works for a bank in Rome, echoes the sentiment: "This is the same, it will take time."

In banning plastic bags, Italy joins the ranks of other countries and cities like Mexico City, San Francisco and other various cities in California, and elsewhere in the U.S. like Westport, Conn. and Edmonds, Wash.

Others, like China, have found success in plastic bag fees. Earlier this year, Washington, D.C., saw plastic bag use drop by 85 percent one month after a five-cent fee for bags went into effect. Ireland saw a similar cut in plastic bag use after a fee imposed in 2002.

After implementing a 5 pence fee for plastic bags in early 2008, U.K. retailer Marks & Spencer was giving out 80 percent fewer bags after a few months.

IKEA weaned customers off of plastic bags by charging for them, and then eliminated them entirely from stores the same year that Whole Foods Market dumped plastic bags as well.

Plastic bags - CC license by Flickr user Dan4th