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University of Bayreuth, Press release No. 190/2021 - 29 December 2021

Expert opinion on plastic bag ban

The plastic bag ban in Germany will come into force on 1 January 2022. Then, with a few exceptions, plastic bags may no longer be sold at supermarket checkouts. Prof. Dr. Christian Laforsch, spokesman of the Collaborative Research Centre (SFB) Microplastics at the University of Bayreuth, is researching the formation, transport and biological effects of microplastics with the SFB team and is developing new approaches to solving this immense environmental problem.
He sees the plastic bag ban primarily as a symbolic step and emphasises the need for a true circular economy, the avoidance of plastic waste and a higher appreciation of plastics.
Nevertheless, he welcomes the current measures. In addition to the plastic bag ban, these are the ban on disposable articles and an extension of the mandatory deposit, which will be extended to all disposable plastic bottles and beverage cans in 2022.

What effect do you expect from the plastic bag ban?

Christian Laforsch: This ban has a strong symbolic character, because the use of plastic bags is symbolic of our improper use of fossil resources such as petroleum and our use of the very valuable material plastic in our everyday lives in general. Thus, the plastic bag ban serves to raise awareness. It is a measure that, in addition to banning disposable plastic products for which there are more environmentally friendly alternatives, is intended to reduce superfluous plastic waste. In particular, the ban targets the proportion of plastic waste that ends up in the environment due to littering. It is important to understand that single-use plastic bags should not be replaced by single-use paper bags and other single-use alternatives. This is because their environmental footprint is much worse than that of plastic bags due to the chemicals used in their production/recycling. The same applies to cloth bags. It should also be remembered that plastics are an indispensable material in our modern society if used properly.

Prof. Dr. Christian Laforsch, Spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Centre Microplastics at the University of Bayreuth

Over the past few months, supermarkets have been gradually banning single-use plastic bags from their product ranges. Are we already seeing successes?

Yes, plastic bags have recently become less and less in German retail sector. This is partly due to consumer awareness, but also to retail, which has reduced bag consumption through voluntary measures and tested alternatives to disposable plastic bags. Nevertheless, a high number of plastic bags are still in circulation in Germany. On average, 18 bags per citizen per year.

The thin plastic bags in the fruit and vegetable department may (still) stay. Do you think they will be abolished soon?

The so-called "Hemdchenbeutel" will remain for hygienic reasons and for lack of environmentally friendly alternatives accepted by consumers. Reusable bags are an alternative. Disposable paper bags cannot be used as an alternative because the ecological footprint is much worse than the extremely thin-walled plastic bags. However, it must be ensured that these plastic bags do not end up in the environment but are disposed of properly.

There is much more plastic in the supermarket than just the bags at the checkout. So is the ban just a drop in the ocean?

An important aspect that tends to get lost is: plastics belong in the recycling bin or in the deposit machine to be properly recycled. Plastics are a valuable material with excellent recycling properties. In terms of their ecological footprint, they are definitely more sustainable than cloth or paper bags/packaging that are only used once. The B2B (business to business) and B2C (business to consumer) packaging waste generated in the supermarkets themselves is usually sent for proper recovery/recycling. Similar to ToGo packaging, there are also approaches to more reusable and increased use of recycled plastics in the B2B sector that should be urgently promoted. In addition to the plastic bag ban and the ban on disposable articles, the mandatory deposit in Germany, which will be extended to all disposable plastic bottles and beverage cans in 2022, is a sensible step towards higher recycling rates and the avoidance of plastic waste. The goal must be a circular economy in which products are designed in such a way that they can be (re)recycled as easily as possible at the end of their life.

Prof. Dr. Christian LaforschChair of Animal Ecology I

Phone: +49 (0)921 / 55-2650
E-mail: christian.laforsch@uni-bayreuth.de
Office: Room 5.0 01 10, Building Naturwissenschaften I (NW I)
Universitätstraße 30, 95447 Bayreuth

Jennifer OpelDeputy Press & PR Manager

Phone: +49 (0)921 / 55-5357
E-mail: jennifer.opel@uni-bayreuth.de