Plastic bags on the way out in Austria’s supermarkets

Plastic bags on the way out in Austria's supermarkets
A discarded plastic bag on a beach.
Most of Austria’s larger supermarket chains have now voluntarily stopped providing their customers with plastic bags, as of January 1st. Instead, customers can buy a sturdy, reusable shopping bag at the checkout, if they haven’t brought their own from home.

This is due to an agreement reached between Austria’s Ministry of the Environment and environmental protection organizations, designed to help implement an EU directive which aims to reduce the consumption of lightweight plastic carrier bags.

An average plastic bag takes one second to make, is used for roughly 20 minutes and takes up to 400 years to degrade naturally.

Supermarkets belonging to the REWE group (which includes Billa, Penny, Merkur and Bipa) are still selling their stock of reusable plastic bags, but have said they will not be ordering any more once they have sold out.

The REWE group says this will mean a saving of 28 million reusable plastic bags. However, the little bags you get for fruit and vegetables will still be available, as will the plastic bags used to wrap meat or fish – which REWE says are necessary for hygiene standards.

However, environmentalists say that the voluntary ban on plastic bags does not go far enough and that single use fruit and veg bags should be banned altogether. Herwig Höfferer from Carinthia’s Chamber of Labour said that people should be encouraged to transport their fruits and vegetables home in their own bags. He recommends buying reusable cloth or paper bags, which can be left in your car or bag and used again and again.

Scientists estimate that every square mile of ocean contains approximately 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in it. According to Austrian NGO Global 2000, 40 tonnes of plastic waste end up in the Danube river every year.