By JYOTHI NATARAJAN

PHOTO: flickr.com/Arbel Egger
PHOTO: flickr.com/Arbel Egger

People in Italy use more than 20 billion plastic bags each year, which is more than 400 bags per person. But not for long. A law that was put into effect at the beginning of 2011 states that shops in Italy are no longer allowed to give their customers plastic bags. Instead, they will have to use biodegradable bags or encourage customers to bring their own reusable bags to shop.

Most plastic bags are made of polyethylene, a chemical made of carbon and hydrogen. The bags are made using crude oil and natural gas, both of which are non-renewable resources. Although these bags can be recycled, most end up as trash in landfills. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, it can take up to 1,000 years for a plastic bag to decompose or break down.

Not only that, but more than one million birds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles die each year from eating or getting caught in plastic bags.

A statement from Legambiente, an Italian environmental organization, revealed that the new ban on plastic bags in Italy will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 180,000 tons. The Italian Environment Minister said the ban was “a key step forward in the fight against pollution and it makes us all more responsible in terms of recycling.”

With this new policy, Italy becomes the first country in the European Union to place an outright nationwide ban on plastic bags. South Africa, China and Bangladesh are among the other countries around the world that have placed a similar ban. In 2007, San Francisco became the first city in the United States to ban plastic bags.

A Few Facts About Plastic Bags:

  • Up until 2011, Italians used 20 percent of all plastic bags in the European Union
  • Every year, people in the U.S. toss out 100 billion plastic bags. The waste created is equivalent to dumping nearly 12 million barrels of oil
  • One percent of plastic bags are recycled around the world
  • Plastic bags cost grocery stores in the United State under two cents per bag; paper bags cost between four and six cents for each bag

GLOSSARY

biodegradable: can be broken down into other living organisms

non-renewable resources: a type of natural resource that is used faster than it can be created. Examples include coal, natural gas, and nuclear power