Plastic no longer fantastic

Newsroom 28/01/2008 | 16:33

Plastic down or higher priced by controversial law project
According to the minister's report, Romanians waste an average of 250 plastic bags yearly, using them for around 20 minutes each. A plastic bag takes 100 to 400 years to biodegrade, according to some studies. This is starting to impact on waste disposal, the minister's studies have found.
The law should be honed over the next few months, and will first take effect in 2009, according to Korodi. In support of the proposed change, the minister said that a bag derived from biodegradable material would cost only 5 percent more than the type of plastic bag currently in use. He also said he would consider a grace period to prevent consumers being affected by the higher price of the bags. Korodi added that the relatively small difference in production costs should prevent consumers from being significantly effected.

Who wins and who loses on a EUR 1 billion market?
The environment wins for sure, which will please the European Union. Consumers think they will lose out the from higher costs of a shopping session, and also fear the companies will offset the bigger taxes on using the bags with an increase in prices. Producers also think that they could lose through the law, especially the ones who now have to re-calculate their business plans on the long term.
Some of the producers are considering adjusting the business to the conditions. Tiberiu Stoian, director of ReklamaShopPackaging Romania, a company which produces plastic wrapping products, thinks that biodegradable formulas bring production costs up to 18 percent higher, which will be passed on to the consumer. “I don't think we can replace all the plastic if the problem is put like this, since we don't have the necessary production capacity to produce paper bags in such quantities,” he said.
The 59 members of the Romanian Plastic Processor Employers' Association (ASPAPLAST), who process 65 percent of the entire plastic output in Romania, accomplished a turnover of EUR 100 million in 2007, while the entire plastic market in Romania is estimated to reach almost EUR 1 billion this year. According to the association, Romanian companies hold under 20 percent of the market, while the rest is covered by imports. The average consumption is one third of European spending.

No objections from retailers
Retailers seem unconcerned about the planned additional taxes for companies which sell and produce non-biodegradable products such as plastic bags. Carrefour's marketing director Andreea Mihai said she could not yet tell what effect the move would have on the firm. “We are a foreign company running commercial activities in Romania and, like any other foreign institution we have to obey the local legislation. For the moment, we think the measure is necessary but we cannot predict the effects on our company so far. We will wait until we know the final version of the law and see then,” said Mihai.
Auchan representatives also support the move, describing it as natural and inevitable as it is part of European legislation. “In France for example, Auchan is very involved in environmental protection issues, which are actually part of its long-term development program. The company introduced in France and other commercial markets the so-called ‘green electronic cash-register' where we have entirely purged plastic bags,” said Marian Dragan, communication manager at Auchan. Other big retailers such as Metro Cash&Carry and Real hypermarket chain have also voiced support. Metro's representatives said that the company doesn't even give out plastic bags.

End of free plastic bags brings big payday
Romania is not breaking new ground with this environmentally-friendly measure. The first country to have banned the free distribution of store plastic bags was Ireland. Since 2002, Irish shoppers have been paying EUR 0.15 for the luxury of using plastic to carry their shopping home. According to statistics, the average Irish consumer was using 342 plastic bags yearly. After the law came into effect, Ireland collected EUR 3.5 million in six months from the plastic bag charge.
The United States chose a more democratic solution, by asking retailers to come up with alternatives to plastic bags, such as recyclable paper bags or bags from other biodegradable materials. Spain too is taking a seriously look at the plastic issue, and the government is planning to start reducing plastic bag consumption from 2009, and forbidding it entirely a year later. According to El Pais, Spanish consumers carried their shopping in 100 billion bags each year, as each person used 250 free plastic bags annually.

By Magda Purice

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