Retailers plan 20-cent charge on plastic bags

Forgetting your own bag when you head to the supermarket could become much more expensive from April 2016, as retailers have suggested that ordinary plastic bags should cost 20 cents each in advice to the government.

Retailers plan 20-cent charge on plastic bags
A plastic bag drifts above a coral reef in the Red Sea. Photo: DPA

An Environment Ministry spokesman told the Süddeutsche Zeitung on Thursday that they were grateful for the advice, which comes after Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks threatened to introduce a law if the industry introduces its own charge for the bags.

The government's goal – under an EU-wide target – is to reduce annual plastic bag usage to 40 bags from the current 71 per person by 2025, the spokesman said.

But the Retailers' Association's (HDE) recommendations will not be binding and it will be up to every company how much they charge.

Ahead of the curve

At 71 bags each per year, Germans already use fewer than the EU target of 90.

The HDE argues that this means there's no hurry to introduce new rules, especially because plastic bags used in Germany rarely end up in the ocean, where they cause the most harm to animals and the environment.

But environmental groups say that introducing the charge could push usage yet further down, as has happened in Ireland, Denmark and Finland since they introduced a charge.

Ireland saw a 95 percent reduction in plastic bag usage after introducing a 22-cent charge.

The UK also recently introduced a five pence charge on plastic bags, which appears to have gone smoothly despite media predictions of 'chaos' at supermarkets.

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‘Harryhandel’: Is the return of cross-border shopping in Norway really a good thing? 

The pandemic cut-off Norway from its neighbours, putting a temporary end to border shopping. Now ‘harryhandel’ trips are allowed again businesses in the country fear they will lose out as shoppers look abroad for cheaper groceries. 

Pictured is Norway and Sweden's border on the old Svinesund bridge.
Will the return of border shopping have a negative affect on the country? Pictured is Norway and Sweden's border on the old Svinesund bridge. Photo by Petter Bernsten/AFP.

In eastern Norway, particularly along the border with Sweden, cross-border shopping has long been common for residents looking for cheaper groceries and a better selection of products. 

Norway’s Covid-19 rules effectively put a stop to that until this summer. The closed border meant a record year for food and beverage sales in Norway. 

“Due to the fact that there was little action and that people did not travel, we noticed that our sales increased greatly during the entire period,” Øyvind Berg, production manager at Norwegian dairy firm Synnøve Finden, explained to public broadcaster NRK.

Now producers and supermarkets fear the impact of cross-border shopping being up and running again. 

“Our challenge is that we see that more than half of the food and beverage producers, i.e. the industrial companies, fear that they will lose market share because cross-border trade will return in full,” Petter Brubakk, director of food and beverage at the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO), informed NRK. 

The majority of those who go shopping across borders in Norway will do so in Sweden. However, in the north, some will also venture into Finland or Russia.

Further south people will also travel to Germany or Denmark. 

Why do people go to other countries for shopping? 

Overall the main appeal of cross-border shopping is that its much better for consumers than shopping domestically. 

Norway’s EEA agreement with the EU means that most foods, drinks, tobacco products, alcohol and other agricultural products are more expensive than they are within the EU as custom duties are required to import them into Norwegian supermarkets. 

Not just that, but there is a much wider selection of products than in Norway due to laws that protect Norwegian products. For example, cheeses such as Cheddar are more readily available, cheaper and generally of better quality in other countries than those found in Norway. 

READ MORE: What is ‘harryhandel’, and why do Norwegians love it so much?

Is border shopping a bad thing for Norway?

Norwegian businesses argue that crossing the border to shop affects the whole value chain, negatively impacting everyone from Norwegian farms and producers to supermarket employees, not just companies profit margins. 

“My advice is to encourage Norwegians to buy Norwegian food, and help secure Norwegian jobs throughout the value chain,” food and agriculture minister Sandra Borch told NRK. 

In addition, shopping domestically means more tax revenue for the Norwegian system to use to fund its generous welfare state. 

While shopping domestically protects domestic jobs, shopping abroad protects jobs there, which rely on people hopping the border to get their groceries. 

Coronavirus pandemic restrictions left a black hole in some of these economies reliant on shoppers from the Norwegian side of the border. For example, in Strömstad, a Swedish town close to the border where many travel to shop, unemployment rose by around 75 percent after Norway closed its borders with Sweden.