Live TV

Germany: Draft bill to ban plastic bags on the way


The use of plastic bags is on the decline in Germany, but the 64% decrease since 2015 doesn't go far enough for Environment Minister Svenja Schulze. Her department has drafted a bill to ban them completely.

The German Environment Ministry has drafted a bill which would ban single-use plastic bags.

Environment Minister Svenja Schulze announced on Friday that she plans for the bill to become law in 2020. "I believe that we have the support of the people of Germany," she said. "The time is right for a plastic bag ban."

The Social Democrat politican says that businesses that violate the new regulation could face a fine of €100,000 ($110,000).

Should the bill become law, there will be a six-month "transition period" which will be spent "distributing the remaining stock of plastic bags" and using up the "remaining stock." The ban will also include recycled and ecologically produced plastic bags.

Schulze said the goal was to "get out of the throwaway society and that overall, we use less plastic."

An agreement reached with businesses in 2016 has already been successful in reducing plastic bag consumption. At many stores, consumers must now pay for plastic bags.

According the Environment Ministry, there has been a 64% decline in plastic bag use since 2015.

Plastic bags account for only 1% of packaged plastic consumption. The bill will not include thin plastic bags used for fruit and vegetables, with Schulze pointing out that this could lead to even more waste.

05:26 mins.
Made in Germany | 07.01.2020

The dirty business of plastic waste

AKK prefers voluntary reductions

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the head of the ruling Christian Democrats (CDU) and expected successor to Chancellor Angela Merkel, said in August that she preferred to start with voluntary reductions in plastic bag usage.   

"If that does not work, then we can talk about prohibitions," she said.

In an August 12 op-ed in the Welt am Sonntag newspaper, Kramp-Karrenbauer spoke of introducing environmental policies "with innovation, with optimism." She also proposed an incentive for scrapping oil heating and writing sustainable development into Germany's constitution.

The CDU expects to finalize its new climate protection policy and plan to meet Germany's 2030 climate goals in September.

The proposal to ban plastic bags comes as the Social Democrats and CDU have shed support to the Green party, with environmental and climate concerns increasingly moving to the fore in public opinion.  

The European Union has already moved to ban single-use plastic items such as straws, forks and knives starting in 2021.

The ugly face of plastic pollution
The age of plastic

Plastic is lightweight, durable — and wildly popular. We've produced 8.3 billion metric tons of the material since mass production began in the 1950s. Because it doesn't easily biodegrade, much of what we've made now lives in landfills like this one on Nairobi's outskirts. Rubbish pickers there hunt for recyclable plastics to earn a living. But a lot of plastic also ends up in the ocean ...

The ugly face of plastic pollution
Rivers of plastic

Much plastic enters marine habitats through rivers like, the Yangtze, the Indus, the Ganges, Pearl River, and the Mekong. These rivers run through highly populated areas with a lack of adequate waste disposal infrastructure. Here, a fisherman in the Philippines removes a fish and crab trap from plastic-filled waters.

The ugly face of plastic pollution
A plastic welcome to the world

Some animals have found uses for plastic waste. This swan nested in garbage on a Copenhagen lake that is popular with tourists. Her cygnets hatched surrounded by waste. It's not the best start to life. But for some animals the consequences are much worse ...

The ugly face of plastic pollution
Deadly consequences

Although plastic is highly durable and can be used for products with a long lifespan, such as furniture and piping, about 50 percent goes to disposable products, including single-use cutlery and six pack rings that end up in the natural environment. Animals, like this penguin, are in danger of becoming entangled and dying as a result.

The ugly face of plastic pollution
Eating plastic

Other animals mistake the material for food. This albatross chick was found dead on Sand Island in Hawaii with multiple pieces of plastic in its stomach. According to one study of 34 seabird species in northern Europe, Russia, Iceland, Svalbard, the Faroe Islands, Scandinavia and Greenland, 74 percent had ingested plastic. Eating the material can lead to organ damage and blockages in the gut.

The ugly face of plastic pollution
Whale killer

Even larger animals aren't immune to the effects of consuming plastic. This whale was found struggling to breathe and swim in a Thai canal. As rescuers attempted to save the animal, it vomited five plastic bags and later died. During the necropsy, vets found 80 shopping bags and other plastic garbage had clogged up the whale's stomach, so the marine creature could no longer digest nutritious food.

The ugly face of plastic pollution
Visible and invisible plastic

We're well aware of the large pieces of plastic bobbing on the ocean's surface, as is pictured here off the Hawaiian coast. But did you know, trillions of tiny particles less than 5 millimeters in diameter are also floating around in there? These particles end up in the food chain. Sea plankton, which are an important source of food for fish and other marine animals, have been filmed eating them.

The ugly face of plastic pollution
An end in sight?

Tentative measures to cut down on disposable plastic have already been taken in some African countries with bans on plastic bags, while the European Union is looking into prohibiting single-use plastic products. But if current trends continue, scientists believe there will be 12 billion metric tons of plastic on the planet by 2050.

| 8

cw,ed/rt (dpa, epd, Reuters)

Every evening DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.