Should we ban plastic carrier bags in Norway? The question was raised by Environment Minister Erik Solheim on television on 8th of March 2008. The ministry then instructed the Norwegian Pollution Control Authority (NPCA) to undertake a review of the issue to be completed by 1st of September. Simultaneously Green Dot Norway ordered a report to straight out the facts about carrier bags in Norway .
About a billion plastic carrier bags are used in Norway each year. Globally, we are looking at an annual consumption somewhere between 500 and 1000 billion.
The consumption of plastic carrier bags in Norway, about 14 000 tones, has been relatively stable for the past five years. This works out to roughly 3 kg of plastic per person per year, or 20 per cent of the annual total of plastic packaging used by households. The plastic carrier bags account for less than one per cent of household waste in Norway. The vast majority of the plastic carrier bags, moreover, also serve an important additional function: wrapping up other kinds of waste and other used packaging.
Some 60 per cent of all plastic carrier bags in Norway are ultimately used to wrap up household rubbish, about 18 per cent to transport bottles and cans to reverse vending machines, 15 per cent to collect plastic packaging or otherwise participate in that return system for material recycling, and about four per cent to transport other used packaging (glass/metal), as well as clothing, etc., to various collection points. In this way the plastic carrier bag serves as a useful "tool" in a number of sorting-at-source systems in Norway . Altogether about 18 per cent of all the plastic carrier bags are recycled as material, while ca. 52 per cent are utilized as energy and ca. 29 per cent sent to landfill. The introduction in 2009 of new restrictions on waste disposal will reduce the volume of residual waste and therefore the numbers of carrier bags ending up in landfill.
Green Dot Norway found that any ban on plastic carrier bags would be a drastic measure in relation to their actual environmental impact. Such a measure would be illegal under the EU packaging directive. Moreover, a ban could stimulate the use of other types of bags and nets with greater environmental impacts. Alternative solutions could also damage existing collection and recycling systems for plastic packaging. In addition, a ban could lead to less flexibility and a loss of efficiency in the distribution and use of bags in sorting at source in many Norwegian local authorities. Finally, the effects of a ban would probably be far more damaging than efforts to achieve environmental improvements through initiatives involving the business sector which can be developed in constructive collaboration with the local authorities and government.
The Norwegian Pollution Control Authority (NPCA)concluded in the same way in their recommendation to the Ministry of Environment: “Totally NPCA does not see a need for removing plastic carrier bags from the market, even if it clearly would be positive if we could see a reduction in the consumption of plastic carrier bags. Reusable shopping bags has increased attention over the last months, and is now being actively promoted by different kinds of stores. Norwegian Pollution Control Authority sees this as positive, and in the current situation NPCA don’t see any need for new public regulations to reduce the consumption of plastic carrier bags.”