Free lightweight plastic bags banned
The amendment of the Packaging Act came into force on the last day of 2018. This means that lightweight plastic carrier bags will no longer be supplied to consumers free of charge and businesses will be obliged to offer alternative packaging options alongside them.
Which businesses must not distribute free plastic carrier bags?
The ban covers all retail establishments which distribute free plastic bags to consumers at their point of sale. The change mainly affects grocery stores, but it also covers electronic, clothing, footwear, and hardware stores - all businesses that offer their own packaging or which enable the customer to use plastic bags for packaging their goods.
Which lightweight plastic bags are banned from free distribution?
The amendment regulates the most common plastic carrier bags with a wall thickness that is below fifty microns, known as lightweight plastic carrier bags (the usual plastic shopping bags with handles), and with a wall thickness below fifteen microns, known as very lightweight plastic carrier bags (usually the small transparent plastic bags with handles). The amendment of the act does not cover plastic bags with a wall thickness of more than fifty microns and these can still be distributed as normal. Additionally, the amendment mentions oxo-degradable plastic carrier bags, with their sale or distribution being avoided. The reason for this is that oxo-degradable plastic carrier bags are made of plastic materials that include additives which catalyse the fragmentation of the plastic material into micro-fragments. Therefore these are not biodegradable plastic bags because they decompose into little pieces and remain in the ecosystem.
When can businesses distribute free plastic carrier bags to their customers?
- Very lightweight plastic carrier bags may be distributed free of charge when they are used to ensuring good hygiene. These include, for example, bags which are used for the primary packaging of loose food, such as fruits and vegetables and minced meat to ensure compliance with food safety requirements. However, if the aforementioned products are already pre-packaged at the point of sale (for example, cucumber is packaged in plastic) and the customer wishes to additionally package them in a plastic carrier bag, they will have to pay for that plastic carrier bag.
- Very lightweight plastic carrier bags may be supplied free of charge for the primary packaging of loose food when this helps to prevent food wastage. This means that the consumer can choose a necessary volume of food and isn’t forced to buy a bigger volume of pre-packaged food. In other words, if there is both a pre-packaged bunch of bananas and also loose bananas available in a store and the consumer only wishes to buy two bananas, they may take the loose bananas and use the very lightweight plastic carrier bag for packaging, free of charge.
- The supplying of free-of-charge lightweight and very lightweight plastic carrier bags is banned at points of sale where the trader offers immediate goods. Therefore this does not involve e-commerce activities, where the consumer will not be making any decisions on the packaging themselves.
- Anyone who does not deal with selling their products in the course of a trade, business, or profession such as, for example, people who sell their products for a temporary period at fairs, may supply their customers with plastic carrier bags free of charge.
What happens, when a business breaches the ban on supplying plastic carrier bags free of charge? The Environmental Inspectorate has the right to issue a warning and/or a written order and, in the case of continued irregularities, impose a fine. The maximum cost of the fine is provided by legal acts to an amount of up to EUR 32,000 but, in reality, this depends upon the importance and scope of the infringement.
Which law provides for the ban on distributing plastic carrier bags free of charge?
The ban results from article 5 of the Packaging Act, which is available HERE.
The amendment of the Packaging Act is available HERE.
What else should be kept in mind when offering plastic bags?
In addition to the previously mentioned reasons, the amendment of the act foresees an obligation to offer other options when packaging goods besides the use of lightweight plastic carrier bags and very lightweight plastic carrier bags such as, for example, carrier bags made of cloth or paper, or string bags, or biodegradable plastic bags. The obligation to offer alternative options for packaging goods applies to anyone who is acting on an economic or commercial basis. Therefore the obligation to offer alternative options does not apply to market or street trading, with an exception if the trader is acting on an economic or commercial basis.
If you have any questions about the ban on supplying plastic carrier bags free of charge, please contact the solicitors at the Chamber of Commerce via: juristid[at]koda.ee.