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Bag Legislation Around the World

The environment has never been higher on the worldwide political agenda. With a global customer base like ours, it’s vital that we stay up to date with constantly changing retail packaging legislation.

Here’s a quick snapshot of some of the bag legislation that’s been introduced around the world.

Packaging Legislation around the World

eco friendly packaging


2007 San Francisco
In the US, San Francisco was officially the first city to ban polythene bags for use in large supermarkets and pharmacies. Stores can however still use biodegradable bags, typically made from corn starch. California later followed suit, introducing a law requiring large supermarkets to take back and recycle plastic bags. Similar schemes have been introduced all over the US, including New York, Chicago, Delaware and Baltimore.


2002 Ireland
Ireland was the first European nation to act on reducing the use of plastic carrier bags when a levy was placed on plastic carriers at supermarket checkouts.

2007 Belgium
Imposed a levy on free polythene bags during the July of this year.

2007 UK
The town of Modbury in Devon was the first UK town to ban the use of polythene bags in its shops. The ban was self-imposed by local traders, who are now offering a specially made ‘bag-for life’ alternative.

2009 Germany and Holland
Although not law, most supermarkets now charge for the use of their carriers.

2011 Italy
From January this year, The Italian Government imposed a complete ban on plastic bags. The Italian polythene bag industry is currently fighting the ban.

2011 Northern Ireland
In May this year, the Single Use Plastic Bill was given Royal Assent, for the introduction of a 15p levy on single use carriers within the region.

2011 Wales
From October, the Welsh Assembly is planning to introduce  a 5p levy on all single-use carriers, including paper


2003 South Africa
The South African Government introduced a total ban on lightweight polythene bags and a levy on heavier duty ones.

2005 Eritrea, Rwanda and Somalia
Introduced a total ban on polythene bags.

2006 Kenya and Uganda
Imposed an outright ban on thin polythene bags with a further levy placed on thicker ones.


2002 Bangladesh
An outright ban on light-weight plastic bags was introduced in capital Dhaka, after the drainage system was found to be clogged with them.

2003 Taiwan
Light-weight plastic bags were totally banned, although the law was later rescinded in 2006.

2008 China
The Chinese government announced in January that it would ban shops from distributing free polythene bags, and make the production of ultra-thin carriers under 0.25mm, illegal.

2010 India
A total ban on plastic bags under 50 microns was enforced in Indian capital Mumbai, when they were both blocking drains and creating a hazard to the sacred cows who were eating them!

2010 United Arab Emirates
An outright ban is planned by the end of 2012.


2009 Australia
South Australia introduced a complete ban on plastic bags in 2009. Further Australian states are now following their lead with The Northern Territories due to impose a complete ban from September 2011.

2009 New Zealand
A campaign was launched to introduce a levy to help reduce the one billion plastic bags used annually by a population of just 4 million people.

What are the Packaging Alternatives?


Coming from plant based cellulose (mainly trees), this material is sustainable and relatively cheap (although not compared to poly). Paper can be recycled providing any finishes are also environmentally friendly.

Transport costs and therefore CO2 output can be higher, as paper is bulkier than poly.


Derived from sustainable cotton, these materials are strong and durable. They’re not as cheap as poly but will last multiple times.

Current research puts the CO2 footprint of this type of bag much higher than that of poly.

Polythene Additives

The addition of mineral additives such as EPI or D2W to the masterbatch helps the polythene break down much more quickly.

Poly additives play no part in helping the material to ‘bio-degrade’ which is when natural organisms help in the breakdown of the product. They simply speed up the ‘degradation’ process, which is where the material breaks down naturally without environmental help.

Update …

This year, total worldwide use of plastic carrier bags will top 5 trillion. That’s over 700 bags a year for every person on the planet! Of this figure, less than 1% is recycled.  The rest find their way into landfill or more alarmingly, into the eco-system, littering the environment and harming land and sea-borne wildlife. Find out more startling facts and figures about our use of plastic carrier bags here: 

Compared to much of Europe and the rest of the world, the UK has been woefully lacking in the commitment to eradicate the environmental damage caused by single-use plastic carrier bags (see above).

In the British Isles, it was the Republic of Ireland which first introduced a carrier bag levy in 2002. Indeed, it led Europe in the initiative.

Yet surprisingly, many so-called Third World countries were also instrumental in legislating against the ‘plague of plastic’. In Africa, total bans now exist in Uganda, Somalia, Rwanda Botswana, Kenya & Ethiopia and prosperous South Africa.

Bangladesh introduced a total ban in capital Dhaka in 2002 following a decade of catastrophic floods from 1988-98 during which up to two-thirds of the country was submerged in water, The cause? Plastic bags clogging up the drainage systems.

However, even though bans or charges exist across most of the continents, the laws are often complex and there is no single unification to govern the use of plastic bags worldwide. Whereas China instigated a total ban in 2008, the United States, by far the largest consumer of petro-chemical based plastics, has bans existing in only 20 states and 132 cities.

As recently as January 2018, the UK government has redeemed itself for its tardiness to react to the plastic bag problem, by banning the use of microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products. Microbeads are tiny pieces of plastic used in the manufacture of these rinse-off products and are extremely harmful to marine life.  And this ban, alongside its plastic bag policy, puts the UK ahead of the world in stemming the tide of plastic pollution. Read more here.

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