Prague, Czech Republic – Billa Czech Republic, one of the main chains of supermarkets established in the country, announced (link in Czech) that it will cease the sale of plastic bags at the end of the year.
No more plastic bags by the end of 2018
The company said it will replace them with recycled paper bags or degradable polypropylene bags and plans to expand, next spring, its assortment of jute and textile bags. Customers eager to cut their plastic use will be able to choose between two sizes: bags able to carry loads of 10 kg (for 3.90 CZK) and others, 15 kg (for 6.90 CZK). Purchasing bags made of degradable polypropylene will also be available for 29.90 CZK.
Jaroslaw Sczypka, managing director for Billa Czech Republic, commented that “this is the next landmark in our sustainable strategy”. “We believe that customers will welcome this step towards even greater environmental protection and get used to new alternatives such as paper bags made of recycled paper and other more environmentally friendly options”.
“Plastic attacks” urge Czechs to adopt more environmental-friendly habits
Part of the Cologne-based German leading trade and tourism conglomerate Rewe Group, Billa was adamant about presenting the move as part of a long-term environmental strategy. But just like other retailers across the country such as Lidl or Kaufland, Billa’s anti-plastic awareness is more recent than they might to try to market it, and addresses growing public support across the Czech Republic for limiting the use of plastic in our daily lives.
In August, a group of Greenpeace activists protested against the use of plastic bags and organized a “plastic attack” in a Billa store in the center of Prague, near Republic square. This “wake-up call”, which prompted Billa executives to promise that measures to limit their plastic bags would soon be discussed with the stakeholders, was part of Greenpeace’s campaign “Plast je past” (“Plastic is a thing of the past”) which aims to boost public awareness about the negative impact of plastic use on the environment and urge Czech lawmakers and government officials to support an EU-wide initiative of the issue.
Last year, the Czech Republic already passed legislation forbidding supermarkets, retailers and other stores to hand out free plastic bags to customers. According to local media, the impact of this ban can already be felt today: instead of buying plastic bags worth a few crowns for their shopping, Czech customers are increasingly bringing their own carrier bags and circulation of plastic bags from supermarkets has already dropped sharply.
On average, Czech citizens use 300 plastic bags per year, according to an EU study. Although this rate is higher than the European average (198), plastic consumption widely varies across the bloc, ranging from an estimated 4 annual bags per person in Denmark and Finland to nearly 500 bags in Poland and Slovakia.
The EU moves to tackle single-use plastic items
Although individual countries are slowly starting to take action against the use of plastic, most analysts argue that current measures aren’t sufficient. In a bid to reduce the pollution of the oceans, the European Commission proposed a ban, last May, on a range of single-use plastic items, including cutlery, plates, cotton buds, straws and balloon sticks. Research estimates that around 150.000 tonnes of plastic are thrown into European waters every year, out of a total volume of 8 million tonnes of plastic worldwide.
In October, the European Parliament voted in favor of the ban, which EU leaders hope will go into effect by 2021. Frédérique Ries, the MEP responsible for the bill, said it was “a victory for our oceans, for the environment and for future generations”. Czech senators already expressed their support for the new legislation.
Experts estimate that roughly half of plastic products, like packaging, are intended for one-time, short life-span (less than six months) applications, and that most of those items are not biodegradable. Although welcoming the initiatives of a growing number of countries around the world, analysts remain skeptic about the impact of banning single-use plastic items, which only account for a small fraction of total plastic use.