Open

Coming up

Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

MEDIAWATCH

No strategy and a beige suit

Read more

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

The World This Week - 29 August 2014 (part 2)

Read more

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

The World This Week - 29 August 2014

Read more

ENCORE!

Alain Choquette: A Hilarious Magician in Paris

Read more

FOCUS

France welcomes Iraqi Christian refugees

Read more

FRANCE IN FOCUS

Emmanuel Macron: A new economy minister with a pro-business agenda

Read more

THE OBSERVERS

More of this year's best Observers stories

Read more

#TECH 24

Changing the world, one video game at a time

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

Socialist Party summer conference kicks off in explosive atmosphere

Read more

  • Exclusive: Fabius warns of further sanctions against Russia

    Read more

  • Experimental Ebola drug ‘ZMapp’ heals all monkeys in study

    Read more

  • IMF stands behind Lagarde amid French corruption probe

    Read more

  • Ukraine to relaunch NATO membership bid

    Read more

  • Suriname leader’s son pleads guilty to courting Hezbollah

    Read more

  • British killer escapes from French psychiatric hospital

    Read more

  • Chelsea’s Torres set for AC Milan switch

    Read more

  • Police hunt for British boy with brain tumour taken to France

    Read more

  • France shines in IMF list of world’s promising economists

    Read more

  • Mapping Ukraine: Canada and Russia in ‘tweet for tat’ row

    Read more

  • First case of Ebola confirmed in Senegal

    Read more

  • Obama has 'no strategy yet' on potential Syria strikes

    Read more

  • Netflix to woo French with ‘House of Cards’ set in Marseille

    Read more

  • French businesses ‘hoping for a new Thatcher’

    Read more

  • Syrian refugees surpass 3 million, UN says

    Read more

  • West backs Ukrainian claims of Russian incursion

    Read more

  • Libyan PM resigns as Islamists set up rival administration

    Read more

  • UN says 43 peacekeepers captured in Golan Heights

    Read more

  • The deleted tweets of Manuel Valls

    Read more

  • Peru seizes record 6.5 tonnes of Europe-bound cocaine

    Read more

Earth

Could 2013 spell the end for plastic bags?

© AFP

Text by Sophie PILGRIM

Latest update : 2013-01-04

Mali and Mauritania became the latest African countries to ban plastic bags this week in what appears to be an increasingly popular environmental gesture. Could we soon see an end to plastic bags, and if so, what will replace them?

The production and use of plastic bags became a criminal offence in both Mauritania and Mali on December 31, making Africa the leading continent in the global crackdown on plastic bags. Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa and Kenya have already banned ultra-thin plastic bags, while Rwanda and Somalia have banned them completely.

In a celebratory statement welcoming the news, Mali’s environment ministry described plastic bags as a “disastrous scourge” and “a menace to public health”. As in Bangladesh, which became the first country in the world to outlaw polythene bags in 2002, Malian authorities say discarded bags block drainage systems, in turn causing aggravated flooding in urban areas.

They also pose a dangerous risk to animals such as sea turtles, which are known to consume plastic bags (because they are thought to look like jellyfish) and subsequently die. In the United Arab Emirates, camels were used to highlight the danger of plastic bags to animals after the skeletal remains of a camel were found surrounding a giant ball of polythene, lying intact in what would have been the animal’s stomach.

Authorities said that around half of the country’s camels were dying from starvation caused by plastic consumption. Today, only oxo-biodegradable plastics, which decompose in air or water, are allowed in the country.

Cities in India, Pakistan, Mexico and the US have also banned plastic bags in recent years, and in 2011, Italy became the first European country to do so. France plans to follow suit in 2014. Even China, which is often criticised as environmentally irresponsible, restricts the use of plastic bags.

‘Tip of the iceberg’

But while environmental groups lend their support to such initiatives, they are keen to highlight a much larger problem.

“People think that once you get rid of plastic bags it’s going to solve all our littering problems,” Neil Verlander of Friends of the Earth told FRANCE 24. “But plastic bags are just the tip of the iceberg. They make up a very small part of the huge amount of material we throw away.”

Verlander also pointed out the impracticalities of imposing a total bag ban, a problem which Mauritanians will be discovering this year. Mamadou Fall, a hostel owner from the southern city of Rosso, told FRANCE 24 that locals were largely nonplussed by the initiative, which had “made no change” to the behaviour of shoppers so far. “We’re not totally against this idea, but it can’t work until the government offers us an alternative. How can we take home our sugar once we have weighed and bought it, if we don’t have a plastic bag to put it in?”

But providing an alternative bag is not the answer, environmentalists argue. While paper bags are biodegradable, they cost more in time, energy and natural resources than plastic bags do to produce. And heavyweight “bags for life”, which are not biodegradable, must be employed as instructed – for life – if they are to be considered a viable alternative.

In fact, the world’s most efficient bag ban did not involve a “bag ban” at all, but instead, a “bag levy”. Introduced in Ireland in 2002, the law initially saw customers charged 15 euro centimes per plastic bag. Within weeks, plastic bag use had fallen by 95%, and 90% of shoppers were using their own bags. Today, a bag costs 22 euro centimes, and the scheme has generated €166m for the government’s Environment Fund. Encouraging shoppers to provide their own bag, rather than offering them a paper one, makes disposable bags in any form, a thing of the past.

 

Date created : 2013-01-03

  • ENVIRONMENT

    Push to extend Kyoto Protocol after climate talks stall

    Read more

  • IVORY COAST

    Activists call for Ivory Coast toxic waste probe

    Read more

  • ENVIRONMENT

    Rio summit ends with 'meaningless' agreement

    Read more

COMMENT(S)