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Poll: Consumers in Finland split over retail plastic bags

In a survey asking Finland's residents how much they would be willing to pay for plastic bags in shops, over one-third supported an all-out ban.

ihminen kulkee muovikassi kädessä
Image: Yle

A Taloustutkimus poll commissioned by Yle asked a sample of over 1,000 Finns how much they would be willing to pay for plastic bags in supermarkets.

"The European Commission has enacted a plastic tax to reduce the amount of plastic refuse. A plastic bag in a supermarket in Finland currently costs about 20 cents. How much would you be willing to pay for them in future?" the survey question read.

Of the four options given, slightly less than one-third, 30 percent, agreed that the current price of 20 cents per bag is suitable, while 20 percent answered that 50 cents is appropriate. Only eight percent were willing stump 2 euros for every bag.

The largest percentage of people participating in the survey, 37 percent, selected the last option provided: "I think the sale of plastic bags in shops should be banned altogether."

Among female respondents, this percentage was 40 percent, while it was 33 percent among men.

Among the different respondent age groups, 42 percent of 50-79 year-olds support a complete ban, while just 28 percent of 15-24 year-olds were behind the idea. For this youngest subset, the current price was seen as most suitable.

Taloustutkimus carried out the survey on plastic bag prices over the Midsummer holiday in late June. The sample size contains a margin of error of three percentage points in either direction.

An EU-wide effort to reduce plastics

The EU is taking steps to reduce non-recycled plastic packaging throughout the union. A Plastic Bags Directive that went into effect in late 2016 requires member states to ensure that no more than 90 lightweight plastic bags are consumed annually per person by the end of 2019. By the end of 2025, that number should drop to 40 bags each.

Just under two years ago, Finland's Ministry of the Environment and the Finnish Commerce Federation signed an agreement to reduce the use of single and multiple-use plastic bags in Finland's supermarkets. The directive-inspired deal has been effective, as the consumption of the plastic bags has fallen quickly in a short time.

"Consumption of plastic bags has clearly fallen, while the sale of reusable bags has improved. The use of biodegradable bags is also on the rise," says Sari Ristaniemi, division manager for the S Group supermarket chain.

Defending bags made from recycled plastic

The Tampere-based plastic packaging manufacturer Amerplast produces most of the close 200 million plastic bags that are used in Finland each year. Director of sales and product development Ari-Pekka Pietilä says studies have shown that the bags made from recycled plastic are actually quite eco-friendly.

"Research has shown that carrier bags made from recycled plastic are a much better alternative for the climate than paper or biodegradable plastic bags in Finland. Imposing a total ban would be the wrong choice for the environment and the climate," he says.

Finland's retailers also make the case that many Finnish consumers reuse the recycled plastic bags that are sold in shops many times before they are discarded.

"How customers reuse the bags in their homes is also significant. Many use them as rubbish bags, for example, or reuse them several times to carry their groceries home from the shop. A plastic bag made from recycled plastic is not necessarily the worst option when it comes to the environment," she says.

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