Thursday, 4 January 2018

Shopper-gate going on in Italy

Assuming at least some of our readers will be interested in the interface between consumer issues and environmental measures, what follows are some highlights on a dispute that is dominating the news in Italy. 

As of 1 January, the Italian legislator has finally implemented the 2015 Plastic Bags Directive, requiring member states to take measures securing they meet set targets in the reduction of waste from plastic bags. Lightweight shoppers, one should keep in mind, are a major source of pollution - particularly at sea. 

So, what is the matter in the Mediterranean? While bigger supermarket bags have already for some time been replaced by biodegradable bags that supermarkets provide for a fee (of around 10 eurocents), the new law puts a ban on free "very lightweight" bags for fresh produce, mainly fruit and vegetables. These will also have to be made of at least partially biodegradable material and shops will have to charge consumers per bag. The exact fee may vary from shop to shop, likely ranging from 1-5 eurocents. 

Image from: cianciullo.blogautore.repubblica.it
In the midst of what promises to be a very heated electoral campaign, consumer association and some opposition parties have been very vocal in criticising the law, which, one must say, goes beyond the requirements of the 2015 Directive: the latter, indeed, allowed MS to exempt these "very lightweight" plastic bags. Many have observed, however, that imposing a fee and composition rules on this specific form of packaging was made necessary by the frequent abuse consumers make of the availability of free veggie bags and the vast number of them which households consume. 

Local practices, such as the fact that fruit and vegetables are usually weighted and price-tagged within the fresh department rather than at cashier desk and the supermarkets' expectation that consumer use separate bags for different sorts of produce, may have contributed to aggravating the situation. Fact is, the solution is quite radical in comparison with other countries, where the same bags continue to be available for free. 

The consumer associations that have complained about the new measure also seem not to be appeased by the fact that consumers will be able to use the bags for their organic waste (which is collected separately in large parts of the country) instead of buying those bags separately - perhaps they think their "constituents" are also not that interested in waste recycling?

All in all, an interesting not-so-small example of a clash between consumer and environmental advocacy (one may think turtle and fish lovers should be pretty happy with the measure). Have a good Thursday! More info (in Italian) here.

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