Four years after it was originally proposed, Italy has imposed a ban on single-use polyethylene-based retail carryout bags. Italy is the first country in the European Union to ban plastic bags.
Ireland has had a tax on plastic carryout bags since 2002. That tax was initially 15 cents, but was raised to 22 cents in 2007.
The plastic bag ban in Italy, adopted Dec. 22, went into effect Jan. 1 for the country, which has an estimated population of 60 million. However, retail stores and supermarkets will be allowed to use up their stock of plastic bags. But they will have to hand them out for free, rather than charging for them their traditional practice.
In a statement, Stefania Prestigiacomo, Italy's minister of the environment, land and sea, called the ban a step forward of fundamental importance in the fight against pollution, making all of us more responsible for reuse and recycling
According to the Italian environment group, Legabiente, annual plastic bag use in Italy has been around 20 billion plastic bags or more than 330 per person.
More than 100,000 citizens had petitioned the government for a ban. A number of Italian cities, including Venice and Turin, had previously enacted plastic bag bans.
Stores in Italy now will only be able to offer biodegradable, cloth or paper bags to their customers.