A new law forbidding the handing out of free plastic bags in supermarkets came into effect on January 1, but when supermarkets reopened on Wednesday after the holiday break, there were no signs of any changes.
By law, supermarkets have now entered a transition period of six months until July 1, after which they will be penalised if they don’t charge customers at least 5 cents for each bag taken from the checkout.
The transition period allows the shops to start charging slowly, with an initial charge of 2 cents per bag for six months, after which the full 5 cents must be charged.
But Andreas Hadjiadamou from the Cyprus Supermarket Association believes nothing much will happen before the final deadline.
“It’s up to the supermarkets, each has their own policy,” he added.
Marios Antoniou from the Pancyprian Retailers Association agreed.
“Everybody will start charging on July 1 because this is when the law comes into effect,” he declared.
This, according to Loucas Aristodemou, chairman of the Cyprus Consumer and Quality of Life Union, is a great pity.
The law has already been delayed for a long time, he explained, adding that it was implemented in other countries long ago and should therefore have been fully enforced from the beginning of this year.
The union said even the full 5 cent charge does not go far enough.
“We believe more in the importance of a culture which will not be created by this type of payment,” he said. “There should be incentives such as the big supermarkets giving canvas bags for free. They could advertise by printing their name on it and at the same time offer a choice to the consumers.”
The six months should be used by supermarkets to prepare campaigns geared at educating their customers, stressing the dangers of plastic bag use. Instead, nothing is being done.
Aristodemou advocates the development of specified programmes to change the culture, including seminars in schools, a development that he says his association would be best placed to oversee.
But retailers say much has been done already. According to Antoniou, supermarkets have been handing out canvas bags for years and informed their customers on the environmental dangers of plastic bags.
However, it doesn’t seem as if shops are preparing for the change brought on by the law – at least not yet.
“We don’t have any plans yet, we are just now starting the procedure,” a spokesperson for Athienitis supermarkets said, and employees of Metro and Mas supermarkets also said their outlets were planning no changes yet.
But at least some customers welcome the change. “We will have to get used to it, we might as well start now,” a shopper in her 50s commented.
Another one, an elderly woman shopping at the Mas supermarket in the old part of Nicosia, pointed at a canvas bag she was carrying which she bought at another supermarket chain.
“I wish they would bring them here so I could get another one,” she said.
Cyprus has faced previous warnings from the EU for not complying with directives over reducing plastic bag consumption.
Close to one trillion plastic bags are used each year worldwide, and fewer than one per cent of those are recycled.
Plastic chemicals can be absorbed by the body – 93 per cent of Americans age six or older test positive for the plastic chemical BPA which can affect health, development and hormones.