Consumption of plastic bags in major Estonian food retail chains has fallen by around 20% following the decision to charge for thinner plastic produce bags, in addition to the larger plastic bags which have incurred a charge for some years.
The development followed an EU Directive from 2016 which aimed at reducing consumption of plastic bags. An estimated 100 billion plastic bags are consumed per year across the EU, it has been claimed, with the bulk of these only being used once and then discarded.
As well as being wasteful, plastic pollution has been highlighted as a major problem globally, leading to vast 'islands' of floating plastic being spotted in the major oceans amongst other environmental damage.
The EU has set a goal of plastic bag usage of no more than 90 per person per year in an effort to reduce usage; the average amount of plastic bags used in Estonia is reported at a couple of hundred bags per person per year, according to an ERR radio news report.
Goodbye to free produce bags galore
Thinner plastic bags were previously freely available in Estonian stores, for instance being placed at or near customer checkout points. This encouraged people who were making smaller purchases in particular to take advantage of these free-of-charge thinner bags instead of paying for a larger bag.
However, within the last couple of years, the larger chain stores in Estonia agreed to put a stop to the practice of providing free thinner plastic bags for free, according to Katrin Bats, public relations officer from major supermarket chain Rimi.
''The decision made in 2016 by retail organizations to stop providing the thinner produce bags from free has meant that we need to order around 20% fewer of them than we had previously done,'' she explained.
''Customers are gradually adopting a more environmentally-conscious mindset as well,'' she went on.
Rimi is headquartered in Riga, Latvia and is a subsidiary of Swedish retail group ICA. It has around 83 outlets in Estonia.
Thinner produce bags are still available in areas of supermarkets where, for instance loose fruit ad vegetables are on display; whether the cost of these is passed on to produce prices was not stated.
Use of larger plastic bags also falls as cheaper alternatives available
The use of larger plastic bags has seen an even bigger drop of 25%, according to Katrin Riisalu, purchasing director at Selver, an Estonian chain of stores and subsidiary of Tallinna Kaubamaja. There has at the same time been a rise in use of paper bags for taking shopping home, which are sold at a cheaper price than the larger plastic bags.
"The volume of paper bag sales has almost doubled, and many people make further use of the paper bags once they're home,'' she said.
Bags made from other materials, such as biodegradable plastic have not proved quite as popular, according to Katrin Riisalu, although many people bring their own reusable bag from home instead, she continued.
Maxima sees same trend but doesn't have non-plastic options yet
It was a similar story with the Lithuanian-owned Maxima, whose stores number around 75 across Estonia. Commercial director of Maxima Estonia, Marko Põder, who said that ''It is precisely because we no longer allow our customers to take a plastic bag, so it can be said that if these bags are not free to get free of charge, it turns out that they are not really needed," said Marko Põder, Head of Trade at Maxima, who said Maxima had seen a 24% drop in the use of thinner produce bags and 9% for the larger shopping bags.
Maxima does not currently offer any non-plastic alternatives, but intends to do so soon, Põder said.
''We will be sure to provide the option for customers to buy paper bags at our stores, either late on this year or early next year, and also have a firm plan to launch an information campaign to encourage people to re-use plastic bags,'' he said.
Editor: Andrew Whyte