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Ban Plastic Bags

My Fight against Plastic Bags

In the summer of 2007, I wrote a letter to a local newspaper (Corriere del Ticino) to protest against the incommensurate use of plastic bags in my region (don't worry, it is the same almost everywhere else...). Read this letter (in italian) here .

Most shoppers love to use plastic bags, even plastic bags within plastic bags... Instead of blaming the under-paid employee at the shop cash register (who certainly has been told to offer a plastic bag to every customer), I decided to write a similar letter to the CEOs of the two largest supermarkets in Switzerland (Migros and Coop) and to the swiss french news magazine, l'Hebdo. See the response from Migros (page 1 and page 2, in french) and the response from Coop here (in german).

At the time, I thought that a simple solution would be to substitute plastic bags with paper bags, since those easily and quickly biodegrade, especially in water... Well, it is not that simple, as you can read from the replies from Migros and Coop. The reason is that the making of paper bags uses more energy than its plastic cousin. It uses also a lot of water and chemical substances, not very eco-friendly... Moreover, due to poor landfill deposits, its degradation time could be as long as hundreds of years, like plastic!

My letters generated a few responses (emails or letters in the same newspapers). More important, I was contacted by a green politician (Greta Gysin) from the Ticino parliament, who asked me if I would be interested in writing a short scientific report about the environmental damages of plastic bags. This report could serve as a basis for a new law, if we could get support from the various political groups in Ticino.
  • See the report (in italian) here (7.7 MB).

  • See the new law proposition (in italian) here.
Fortunately, our proposition found a wide support from almost all political groups in Ticino (all except the UDC, which does not care much about the environment...). Our plastic bag saga goes on and I will keep you posted on this page about its progress.

What's the situation in Switzerland and in Ticino?

Many initiatives appeared in Switzerland, in particular from politicians and from Migros Geneva. In Ticino on the ohter hand, Migros swims against the tide and defends the plastic bags! If you don't believe me, read here. The critical point of this article is: Environmental audits have shown that even when only used once, thin plastic bags are up to four times better than paper ones. (my capitals)

EXACTLY! Let's explain to Migros Ticino once and for all: the whole idea is NOT to use them once, be it plastic or paper, but rather to use (and re-use) the same bag of fabric, a basket or a trolley. To the limit also a repetitive use of a robust plastic bag like these.

The "problem" is that one has to make the huge mental strain to remember to take along such a bag or trolley to go shopping... Migros Ticino apparently does not think we are capable of such a strain, continuing to offer free and polluting plastic bags in shops.

And in other countries?

Other countries have already solved that problem: India, Bangladesh and Bhutan have banned plastic bags years ago, because they provoke diseases in animals that eat them. In Canada, the town of Leaf Rapids (Manitoba) was the first to ban plastic bags. In the U.S., the town of Fairfax has a law that bans plastic bags. In France, the Carrefour supermarkets in Paris do not distribute plastic bags since February 2007. In England, tens of municipalities in Modbury have banned plastic bags thanks to the "Bag Ladies" (see here) led by Rebecca Hosking. Italy wants to ban plastic bags in 2010 (see here.)