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Shopping bags - a big opportunity for Bioplastics

Shopping bags made of plastics is certainly a field of application with a huge potential for bioplastics. Reusablebags estimates 500 billion to one trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide every year. In the USA alone, n estimated 12 million barrels of oil are required to produce the 100 billion bags consumed annually. In Germany about 80,000 tonnes of plastic resin are converted into shopping bags each year. Up to now, just a small amount of these bags are made of plastics based on renewable resources and compostable plastics.

Different reasons, such as littering in some countries, the attempt to support the agricultural industry or simply to support sustainability in others, lead to different approaches in legislation.

Legislative attempts

picture BASF1

In some of these countries taxes on shopping bags have been introduced. In March 2002, the Republic of Ireland, for example, became the first country to introduce a plastic bag tax, or PlasTax. Since 2003 a law in Taiwan requires restaurants, supermarkets and convenience stores to charge customers for plastic bags and utensils.

Other countries that have banned or have started a discussion to take measures discouraging the use of plastic bags include Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Scotland, Italy, South Africa, Kenya, Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India and Tanzania.

In France, large supermarket chains like Auchan or Leclerc started to stop giving out plastic bags for free – a first step to reduce the number of plastic bags. 5 billion plastic bags were used in France in 2003, declining to 12 billion in 2004 and 9 billion in 2005.

Late last year, the lower house of the French Parliament passed an amendment to an agricultural provisions bill, which initially intended to ban all plastics packaging by 2010 unless made from biodegradable materials. The amendment was later modified in the French senate, so that now by 2010 all supermarket plastic checkout-bags have to be made of biodegradable material.

picture BASF2

This legislative measure “has already created a noticeable impetus for market development”, says Stefano Facco, as representative of Club Bioplastique in france. He stated that the French agricultural and local industry will increasingly profit from this legislation. He gave encouragement to follow this example and develop further initiatives to support the market introduction of bioplastics at both European Union and member state level.

With all these activities in mind, one should not forget the initial idea behind the plastic shopping bag. A consumer shall be able to go out for shopping without any provisions made to carry his or her purchases home. Otherwise, the old shopping basket or tote would be the most economical solution.

Bioplastics on the advance

Shopping bags made of bioplastics are clearly on the advance.

BioBag International as. (formerly Polargruppen), headquartered in Askim, Norway, for example produces and sells several million shopping bags made of Mater-Bi material per year worldwide. In addition to two manufacturing facilities in Norway and Belgium (in close cooperation with Jemaco NV) BioBag is present in 18 countries. Jorn Johansen of BioBag is convinced that biodegradable bags (shopping bags as well as waste bags and other film products for agricultural and technical applications) is becoming an important part of their business.

picture of BioBag International

The German company Holm Folienverarbeitung, is one of the suppliers with the biggest number of bioplastic shopping bags produced in Germany, as H.M. Holm, owner of the company says. This pioneer in this business has already been producing biodegradable plastic bags for 15 years, including some export activities to The Netherlands, Australia and the United Arab Emirates. Most of Holm's bags are not the lightweight single use checkout bags as they are found in many countries. In Germany, the heavier reusable bags are much more common. “Even if these bags made of bioplastics are more expensive than fossil based plastic bags, many of our customers like the benefit of these bags being used as a conveyor for marketing messages” as H.M. Holm comments. A very successful bag is the so-called “Happy Bag” in close cooperation with natura packaging, that shows a photograph of fresh strawberries on one side and an empty field on the other, where e.g. small shops such as farm greengrocery stores can print their own logo. One big customer of biodegradable bags is the outdoor equipment supplier “Globetrotter”. Customers of its six stores in Germany carry home their purchases in biodegradable bags made by Holm. Ditmar Bosecke, Head of Marketing at Globetrotter says: ”Our customers very much like to be outside, they love nature and act responsible to the environment. So the availability of bioplastic bags offered us a good opportunity to do something in this respect as well.” Globetrotter asked their customers in an internet poll about their opinion and as the result was overwhelming, Globetrotter decided to introduce shopping bags of biobased and biodegradable plastics right away. Globetrotter does not charge any money for these bags.

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