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„Plastic? Don’t get in the bag any more“: Plastic bag consumption in Germany declines sharply

Around 1 trillion plastic bags are produced worldwide every year. Put together, the bag parade could wrap the equator 10,000 times. In Germany alone, we still consume billions of plastic bags – but there is also good news: Germans are consuming less and less of them per capita.

Granted: Polyethylene (PE) plastic bags are super practical and cost almost no money – which has made them very popular. However, they are produced from a non-renewable raw material, which is far too good for this and whose production and transport causes enormous environmental damage: crude oil. And last but not least, we should think that according to National Geographic, over 8 million tons of plastic damage the world’s oceans every year: five shopping bags per 30 centimeters of the world’s coastline. Directly affected by this environmental disaster are more than 660 animal species and, in the end, also humans, who get the plastic together with their fish on their plate. By the way, German lakes and rivers are also full of plastic waste … 

So the plastic bag has to go, as the EU has long agreed – and not only there: there is also a growing worldwide awareness of the damage that plastic bags cause to our planet. On 26 May 2016, the initiative of the German trade against plastic waste was therefore signed. The goal: within two years 80 % of the plastic bags in the retail sector were to be made chargeable. With this voluntary commitment the retail sector has preceded an EU scheme. The plan from Brussels: to reduce consumption to 40 plastic bags (2025) per capita per year (EU average 2013: 198 plastic bags).

The bag with costs shows effect

With the voluntary pricing of disposable plastic bags, the retail sector ensures that the practical bag becomes a cost factor. Even if it is only a few cents, consumers can no longer ignore the price. The result: In Germany, only 24 bags per capita are currently consumed per year (not counting the small bags from fruit and vegetable counters).

MediaMarktSaturn as industry pioneer in the fight against disposable plastic bags

MediaMarktSaturn recognized the problem of plastic bags very early on and tackled it consistently in line with the Group’s sustainability strategy. MediaMarktSaturn Group was the first company in Germany in the consumer electronics segment to say goodbye to the plastic bag. Since 2014, MediaMarkt and Saturn stores have only had plastic bags for a fee that was intended to control the careless handling of the bag more consciously. With resounding success: Customers used around 90 % fewer plastic bags – a saving of 60 million bags per year!

And that’s why MediaMarktSaturn went one step further in 2017 and completely banned the disposable bags from the stores. This voluntary commitment to refrain from disposable plastic bags was renewed in 2019, thus sending a clear signal in the fight against plastic waste. With the permanent carrier bags, MediaMarkt and Saturn have long offered an environmentally friendly alternative that consists of 85 % recycled material and is robust and durable. 

Even if the permanent carrier bag is broken, no customer has to throw it away: They can be exchanged for new ones free of charge in all stores – unless customers already have their own shopping bag with them. Because the consumer himself has also become sensitized in the meantime. As of 2018, 80.4 % of the customers carry their purchases home in a paper bag, cloth bag or jute bag. This is also a positive development which helps to avoid plastic waste.

Alternatives to plastic bags? Materials put to the test

  • Cotton, jute or flax. Fabric bags consume significantly more resources (water) and energy than plastic bags. Especially in the cotton harvest chemicals that pollute the environment are often used. This is another reason why MediaMarktSaturn decided against this material. So are fabric bags “bad”? Not at all: If they are used very often and for a long time, are made of robust organic material and are Fairtrade-certified, fabric bags are good – but only then.
  • Bioplastic. Bags of maize starch, bamboo and other vegetable materials that are compostable … it sounds too good to be true. Firstly, however, „bioplastics“ is unfortunately not definied precisely enough to be sure that the entire bag is biodegradable and made from renewable raw materials. Secondly, bioplastics take around 90 days to decompose – but the composting plants of the waste disposal companies do not take this time. Bioplastics are therefore sorted out there and incinerated in the same way as other plastic waste.
  • Paper. The production of paper consumes more energy than the production of plastic bags. At the same time, paper bags are even more short-lived than plastic bags; they are usually not reused by the consumer, but often prematurely discarded. And compared to the permanent carrier bags from MediaMarkt and Saturn, they are much less stable. All that speaks against paper bags. For this reason, MediaMarktSaturn is gradually abandoning this packaging as well.