Turkey bans free plastic bags as of 2019

ANKARA (Xinhua) – A most debated regulation divided Turkish society was put into effect since January 1 – ban on free plastic bags as part of the government policy to reduce pollution.

According to the new rules, it is prohibited to give plastic bags to consumers free of charge, except for small sized plastic bags ranging from 15 to 50 microns, in a bid to protect food sold openly.

The stores have to charge 0.25 Turkish liras (USD 0.04) for a single-use plastic bag or offer bags which are partially made from recycled materials. Providing free plastic bags will be fined as much as 10 liras per square metre of the stores’ property.

In the first four days with the new regulation, the number of plastic bags used by customers decreased almost by 50 per cent, said Turkish Minister of Environment and Urbanisation Murat Kurum last Friday.

“Our goal is to reduce the usage of plastic bags by 90 per cent, to 40 plastic bags per person annually in 2025,” the minister said.

Nizamettin Yilmaz, a cashier at a glassware store in Kizilay, downtown of capital Ankara, told Xinhua that they often had quarrels about plastic bags for charge in the past five days, which caused queues.

“Half of the customers are happy with the new regulation, saying it is a must for prevention of pollution. They are mostly high educated customers who are carrying their reusable fabric or paper bags with them,” Yilmaz said.

“Another half is critical with the new regulation. I try to inform them that the store will be subject to fine if we deliver single-use plastic bags for free,” he added.

Gulgun Oncu is one of those who are happy with the new practice. “It’s like the old days before we use plastics so much. We should have started this ban long time ago in order to minimise their negative impact on the environment.”

Erol Arabaci, owner of a grocery, told Xinhua that before the ban, his customers were taking additional plastic bags than necessity.

“But now, most of them bring their own bags while some of them still challenge me to get bags free of charge. I even saw some people who got angry at me and left the store without buying the products,” he said.

The plastic bags are popular in Turkey also because people use them as garbage bags at home, instead of buying bin bags.

Consumption of single-use plastic bags in the country was 440 bags per person, a total of 30 – 35 billion bags a year, according to Chairman of Turkish Environmental Administration of the Environment and Urbanisation Ministry Sebahattin Dokmeci.

Recycling of the material is very difficult and only one per cent of the plastic bags are recycled in Turkey, he added.

Turks are now looking for alternative bags as budget-friendly options. Grocery stores started to sell cloth and recycled bags.

The new regulation prompted a surge in the demand for vintage string grocery bags which increased by 154 per cent in December 2018 compared to the same month of 2017, according to data provided by e-commerce platform hepsiburada.com.

Esenyurt Municipality in Istanbul Province delivered cloth bags to residents free of change.

On the other hand, plastic manufacturers say that tens of thousands of jobs are now at risk.

Some 20,000 people are employed at plastic production industry in Turkey and half of them will lose their job if the use of plastic decrease by 50 per cent Chairman of Turkish Plastic Industry Research and Education Foundation Yavuz Erdoglu warned.