ALL shops in Spain will be required by law to charge a minimum of five cents for plastic carrier bags – and in some cases, could end up applying prices of up to 30 cents.
The environment ministry led by Isabel García Tejerina says free plastic bags will be banned from January 1 next year in an attempt to cut their use, in line with the European Directive of 2015 which all member States are obliged to apply progressively.
Bags of less than 50 micrograms in density, or the lightweight, easily-breakable supermarket kind, cause the greatest levels of pollution, including the water supply, although all sizes of carrier bag will attract a cost.
Spain has chosen to apply the EU rule ahead of its deadline of New Year's Eve on 2018.
Member States may choose not to charge for bags, but to limit their use to 90 per person per year by 2020 and 40 by 2026, although most EU countries have opted for applying a cost.
In Spain alone in the year 2014 – the most recent for which figures are available – a total of 4.7 tonnes of plastic bags of the denser, more resistant type were manufactured – around 158 million of them – showing consumers are tending to opt for stronger and larger carrier bags if they have to pay.
But prices are set to rise on these almost threefold, since the maximum shops can charge for them is 30 cents and many may well choose to do so.
Very lightweight bags, those of up to 29 micrograms and typically flimsy and breakable will be charged at a minimum of 10 cents, or five cents if they are biodegradable.
Denser varieties must cost at least 15 cents, or 10 if they can be broken down as compost.
Bags made with additives that allow them to biodegrade rapidly will be banned altogether if they are less than 50 micrograms, or the typical non-reinforced supermarket carrier bag.
This is because the chemicals used in their manufacture mean they cannot be recycled or used as compost, but reinforced bags of 50 micrograms or more will still be available, albeit at the maximum price of 30 cents to discourage their use.
Very lightweight bags will continue to be free of charge where they are necessary for hygiene or food conservation reasons, such as those used for fruit and vegetables and from the fish, meat and cheese counters.
These smaller versions account for 23% of the annual 62,500 tonnes of lightweight plastic bags manufactured annually in Spain.
For some years now, most supermarkets have been charging between one and five cents for small carrier bags and around 10 cents for larger, stronger ones, but in less than a year, this will become obligatory and shops which do not do so will be fined.
The average resident in Spain uses 133 carrier bags a year, of which fewer than 10% are recycled, with the rest ending up in landfill sites, incinerators, or the sea.
But they are not the most wasteful of Europeans in terms of carrier bag use – the average is 198 per year per person, or well over double the limit of 90 the EU wants to see in place by the year 2020.
This said, a recent survey has shown that 87.5% of Spanish shoppers bring their own bags with them to the supermarket.