Just six months after the introduction of a law obliging shops to charge for plastic carrier bags, Cypriots have changed their ways, but some outlets are still defying the new regime.
Some 80% less plastic carrier bags have been distributed at the tills of supermarkets since July when the law was imposed.
While many environmentalists and supermarket owners were surprised to see Cypriots take to the measure with relative ease, Green Party MPs feel that more needs to be done as the reduction in plastic bags seems to concern only bags handed out at big supermarkets, while smaller businesses are not complying.
Enthused over the way Cypriot consumers reacted to the new legislation, Andreas Hadjiadamou, General Secretary of the Cyprus Supermarket Association said: “People have accepted the new measure without any hiccups, and as a result supermarkets have handed out almost 85% less plastic carrier bags. We see people coming into the stores with their own reusable bags”.
He said Cypriots have taken to the new shopping culture from the get-go with a number of customers even commenting that the measure should have been introduced earlier.
Hadjiadamou said supermarkets had paved the way for the implementation of the legislation while urging people to buy reusable bags on sale.
“We organised events in cooperation with the Environmental Commissioner’s office where we gave out free reusable shopping bags and leaflets on protecting the environment by limiting plastic use.”
He said the association will continue its efforts to inform the public on ways to protect the environment while shopping.
According to a Ministry of Agriculture official, before implementation of the legislation, Cyprus consumers were taking home some 106 million thin plastic carrier bags from supermarkets and other stores per year.
The official said that the law covers all stores handing out plastic bags to shoppers be it the neighbourhood kiosk, grocery, kebab sellers, patisseries, retail shops or big supermarkets.
The only exception allowed under the law is for bulk foods such as products found in fruit markets, butchers and fishmongers, where the thin plastic bags are not charged.
The official said that bags sold at the counter for 6 euro cents and their purchase has to be stated on the receipt issued to the customer.
Bags usually cost the business around two cents each, with the rest being profit collected by the shop owner with the obligation to promote the use of reusable bags and organise campaigns to raise public awareness over environmental issues.
“During our campaigns, we have even given out free reusable bags, which as the use of bags has been dramatically reduced, money collected from the sale of plastic bags was not enough to cover costs,” said Hadjiadamou.
As pointed out by the MOA official according to the law, supermarkets can use the money collected from the sale of bags as they see best to comply with their obligations.
The Environmental Department is in charge of collecting data on how much money is generated and how businesses allocate those funds to promoting reusable bags and raising awareness.
A report will be handed to the House of Representatives over the next few days.
More to do
Despite the encouraging start, Green Party MP Charalambos Theopemptou said there is still much to do.
He said that while a decrease in the distribution of bags at the tills is impressive, it concerns mainly the big supermarkets.
“Unfortunately, there is a significant number of smaller shops which are still not complying with the law such as bakeries, groceries, coffee shops and pharmacies,” said Theopemptou.
The Green MP said parliament is to evaluate the results of legislation voted in last July on the one-year anniversary of the law.
“If we find that there are still a significant number of plastic bags in circulation, we will consider measures such increasing the cost of the bags or abolishing their use altogether,” he said.
The former Environmental Commissioner said that MPs are concerned over the fact that money collected from the sale of bags is being managed by the businesses themselves.
“The House wanted to see the creation of a Green Fund, where this money would end up. This fund was to be managed by state officials and used for the promotion of green policies. However, the Finance Ministry was not interested in such a proposal, as the Ministry was absent from the discussion sessions” commented Theopemptou.
He said that the Finance Ministry had told MPs that if they wanted the state to manage funds from the bags, then they had to come with a way that would not cost the state extra money.
Asked on whether the House will look into limiting the use of other plastic products either by amending the existing legislation or bringing new bills, Theopemptou said that there is no need as the European Parliament is preparing a relative directive for member states.
He said that the Austrian presidency of the European Union is pushing for the adoption of a new directive which will include stricter regulation regarding the use of disposable plastic items.
The products to be banned are plastic cutlery and plates, plastic straws, food containers such as fast food boxes for immediate consumption, polystyrene foam containers, expanded polystyrene cups, products made of expanded polystyrene and cotton swabs.
Theopemptou is aware that Cyprus always lags behind other member states when it comes to adopting EU directives, especially those concerning the environment.
He said that efforts need to be concentrated on raising public awareness over environmental issues. He called on consumers to report businesses not complying to legislation regarding environmental issues.
“As Cypriots, we need to adopt a culture of protecting the environment. While in Cyprus small plastic bags are allowed in place like fruit markets, in countries like Germany you see people going to stores equipped with special baskets for their fresh produce.”