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Plastic bags on the way out in Austria’s supermarkets

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.

Plastic bags on the way out in Austria's supermarkets
A discarded plastic bag on a beach.

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.

 

WILDFIRES

Europe facing record year for wildfire destruction: EU

Europe's blistering summer may not be over yet, but 2022 is already breaking records, with nearly 660,000 hectares ravaged since January, according to the EU's satellite monitoring service.

Europe facing record year for wildfire destruction: EU

And while countries on the Mediterranean have normally been the main seats of fires in Europe, this year, other countries are also suffering heavily.

Fires this year have forced people to flee their homes, destroyed buildings and burned forests in EU countries, including Austria, Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

Some 659,541 hectares (1.6 million acres) have been destroyed so far, data from the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) showed, setting a record at this point in the year since data collection began in 2006.

Europe has suffered a series of heatwaves, forest fires and historic drought that experts say are being driven by human-induced climate change.

They warn more frequent and longer heatwaves are on the way.

The worst-affected country has been Spain, where fire has destroyed 244,924 hectares, according to EFFIS data.

The EFFIS uses satellite data from the EU’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS).

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How the climate crisis is hitting Europe hard

The data comes after CAMS said Friday that 2022 was a record year for wildfire activity in southwestern Europe and warned that a large proportion of western Europe was now in “extreme fire danger”.

“2022 is already a record year, just below 2017,” EFFIS coordinator Jesus San-Miguel said. In 2017, 420,913 hectares had burned by August 13, rising to 988,087 hectares by the end of the year.

“The situation in terms of drought and extremely high temperatures has affected all of Europe this year and the overall situation in the region is worrying, while we are still in the middle of the fire season,” he said.

Since 2010, there had been a trend towards more fires in central and northern Europe, with fires in countries that “normally do not experience fires in their territory”, he added.

“The overall fire season in the EU is really driven mainly by countries in the Mediterranean region, except in years like this one, in which fires also happen in central and northern regions,” he added.

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