BERLIN, June 7 (Xinhua) -- German shoppers are using less and less plastic bags in an apparent sign of growing environmental awareness among consumers, according to the findings of a study published on Thursday by the German press agency (dpa).
Dpa cited figures compiled by the Association for Packaging Market Research (GVM). According to the Wiesbaden-based association, German residents used 29 plastic bags per capita on average in 2017 compared to 45 per capita in 2016 (minus 35 percent).
A total of 2.4 billion new plastic bags were brought into circulation in Germany in 2017, marking an annual decline by 1.3 billion or just over one third. However, GVM noted that its assessment only included larger and sturdier types of carrier bags as opposed to thin and transparent packaging used for fresh products like fruit and vegetables.
Commenting on the study on Thursday, minister for the environment Svenja Schulze expressed confidence that GVM's findings still heralded a wider change in consumer behavior. Schulze argued that plastic bags were a product with a looming "expiry date", not least because of the "availability of good alternatives".
The SPD politicians urged her fellow citizens to build on the momentum in the reduction of plastic bag use to phase out other unnecessary and environmentally-harmful forms of packaging as well. "At the end of the day we should only use synthetic materials which are easily-recyclable," she said.
As of 2016, many German companies have voluntarily committed to no longer offer plastic bags to customers for free as a means to discourage their use. "Many large retail chains have completely gotten rid of plastic bags. This circumstance has a positive impact on the GVM statistics,"said Josef Sanktjohanser, president of the German Retail Association (HDE).
Schulze is part of a growing band of senior politicians throughout the European Union (EU) who are seeking to draw attention to the environmental risks posed by excessive plastic use.
The European Commission recently unveiled concrete policy proposals for a joint plastic strategy for the bloc on Monday which would require all related products to be recyclable from 2030 onwards amongst others.
According to officials in Brussels, the EU generates 26 million tons of plastic waste each year. Despite growing recycling efforts, a large share thereof still ends in oceans where it endangers marine ecosystems and can also re-enter the human food chain in the form of small plastic particles found in fish.
"We must prevent that plastic enters our water, our food and even our bodies," a statement by European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans read.
The German EU Commissioner Guenther Oettinger sparked an ongoing public debate in Germany by going as far as to call for an EU-wide plastic tax of 80 cents per kilogram.
Oettinger argued that such an ambitious measure could help make up for a shortfall created by the United Kingdom's decision to leave the EU, as well as reducing the use of plastic by consumers and companies.
So far, Schulze remains opposed to the idea of a blanket tax on plastic whilst being opening to the possibility of additional levies on non-recyclable packaging. German chancellor Angela Merkel similarly told delegates in the country's federal parliament (Bundestag) that she was "not yet convinced" of Oettinger's proposal.