by Lauren Frayer
Zunino Celotto, Getty Images.
"Italy, which uses more than 20 billion plastic bags a year, is starting 2011 with a ban on the non-biodegradable bags.
"Starting Saturday, Italians will have only one answer to the question, "Paper or plastic?"
"Shops and supermarkets across Italy are doling out their last plastic bags today, before a nationwide ban forces them to swap plastic for more environmentally friendly paper or fabric bags.
"Italy is Europe's biggest consumer of plastic bags, using more than 20 billion annually.
"Every year each Italian uses 400 plastic bags, and Italy in total is responsible for 25 percent of all plastic bags that are used and produced in Europe," Eva Alessi, a spokeswoman for the World Wildlife Fund, told Euro News.
"The new ban on plastic bags has been phased in gradually since 2006, when Italian lawmakers first approved the measure. But an original deadline of January 2010 was postponed because of opposition from industry groups, who complained that the ban could create chaos in supermarkets and hurt local plastics manufacturers.
"The full ban will now go into effect on Saturday. It requires all retailers to offer customers only special biodegradable plastic bags, or ones made of paper or fabric. The emphasis is on reusable bags, which the Italian government is promoting as fashionable as well as earth-friendly.
"Sponsored LinksSupporters of the law say plastic bags use too much oil to manufacture and take decades to break down in landfills. The Italian environmental group Legambiente estimates that the plastic bag ban will save Italy 180,000 tons of CO2 emissions, according to The Daily Telegraph.
"This marks a key step forward in the fight against pollution, and it makes us all more responsible in terms of recycling," Italy's environment minister, Stefania Prestigiacomo, told Agence France-Presse.
"Other European cities have implemented similar measures, but Italy's is believed to be the first nationwide ban on plastic bags on the continent. Many countries charge customers for plastic bags."