(ANSA) - Rome, December 3 - Italy is moving ahead with a plans to ban the production and distribution of non-biodegradable plastic shopping bags starting January 1, its environment minister told ANSA this week.
"There is no going back", said Stefania Prestigiacomo, stressing that "producers had enough time to prepare themselves for this change". The government's plans to ban plastic bags, first drawn up in 2007, originally foresaw an end to their use starting from January 2010 before a one-year extension was granted.
A campaign is being planned to inform citizens about the ban and about environmentally friendly alternatives, said Prestigiacomo. The environment minister is certain that the ban will have a positive effect. "Sustainability is made of little changes to our lifestyle that don't cost us anything and can save the planet."
Italians use a total of 20 billion plastic shopping bags every year. According to researchers, plastic bags remain in the environment for a minimum of 15 years to a maximum of 1,000 years, polluting the air, the sea, rivers and forests.
A recent poll suggested that Italians are ready to do their bit, with 73% saying they would use alternatives to polluting plastic bags when out shopping. These include biodegradable shopping bags and carrying bags made of natural fabric such as cotton, hemp and other materials.
Unionplast, an association that includes firms in the plastic production sector, criticised the imminent implementation of the ban, arguing that the European Union didn't have specific guidelines prohibiting plastic shopping bags.
According to the association, plastic bags are not a threat to the environment because they can be recycled. Unionplast also pointed out that alternative, biodegradable shopping bags break more easily as they are not as resistant as plastic, and also cost three times as much.
However, leading Italian environmental organisation Legambiente praised the government's plans and echoed Minister Prestigiacomo's comments by reminding producers that the starting date for the ban had been announced well in advance, giving them enough time to plan ahead.
The government's intention to implement the ban without further delays is of crucial importance, said a member of Legambiente's scientific team. Meanwhile, the industry ministry is drawing up temporary measures to allow supermarkets and shops to get rid of their plastic bag supplies.