C2 Background
German Bundestag decides to ban plastic bags

27.11.2020 From 1 January 2022, the sale of plastic bags will be banned in Germany. The Bundestag today approved a corresponding amendment to the packaging law, which was initiated by Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze. In future, plastic bags with a wall thickness of 15 to 50 micrometres will no longer be allowed to circulate. The best alternatives would be fabric bags, bags or baskets.

Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze had been the driving force behind the ban on plastic bags.
© Photo: BMU/photothek/Thomas Trutschel
Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze had been the driving force behind the ban on plastic bags.

Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze said: "A few minutes used and in the worst case decades in the environment – the plastic bag is the epitome of resource wastage. This hop-and-go mentality is no longer up to date. The time is more than ripe to ban the plastic bag. However, disposable articles made of other materials must not now replace the plastic bag. The future is not the disposable paper bag. The future is reusable – and this is really not a problem, especially with bags. Good alternatives are shopping baskets, washable fabric bags for fruit and vegetables and reusable boxes for goods from the fresh produce counter."

Decreasing consumption

The consumption of plastic bags has declined in Germany in recent years. Nevertheless, consumers still use around 1.6 billion plastic bags per year, or around 20 plastic bags per capita.
"Shirt bags" of less than 15 micrometres are not prohibited. Above all, they ensure hygienic handling of open and easily perishable foodstuffs such as meat or sausage products. There is not yet a good alternative for this purpose. Therefore, a ban would possibly lead to more (pre-)packaging on the market, which could lead to an increase in packaging waste. Many retail chains are already doing without packaging for loose products where possible. Plastic carrier bags with a wall thickness of more than 50 micrometres, on the other hand, are comparatively stable and are therefore typically used more often.

Reusable plastic bags as an alternative

The best alternatives to the plastic bag are fabric bags, backpacks, baskets or other reusable containers that are reused for a long time. Reusable bags made of synthetic fabric, such as polyester, are also good alternatives. The more often they are used, the more environmentally friendly they become. With fabric bags, you have to make sure that they either come from recycled material or that their basic material comes from organic farming, for example flax or cotton.
Paper bags, on the other hand, do have the advantage that they rot faster when they are released into the environment. However, their production causes comparatively high CO2 emissions and consumes a lot of water, which has to be cleaned in a complex process.
The ban on plastic bags adopted by the Bundestag today still has to pass the Bundesrat. The members of parliament have chosen 1 January 2022 as the date of entry into force.