An unprecedented 15,000 EU citizens responded to the public consultation, which ran between May and August of last year. Around 500 public authorities, industry associations, NGOs and academic organizations also responded.
The results of the consultation show that over 70% of the respondents agree that a ban on plastic bags across the EU is needed with only 12% agreeing that current requirements on compostability and biodegradability in the Packaging Directive were appropriate.
Green groups Sea at Risk and European Environmental Bureau (EEB) urged the European Commission to respond to the results of the consultation by proposing an EU-wide ban on plastic bags.
The Commission is considering implementing a ban partly in response to legal uncertainty over whether national bans are compatible with EU law. Italy adopted Europe's first outright ban on non-biodegradable plastic bags at the beginning of 2011, but this was challenged by the plastics industry.
So far the Commission has not taken action against Italy. But in 2010, France abandoned a similar plan for a ban after a Commission analysis said it would be illegal. Austria has been urging the Commission to clarify the situation and either allow national bans or institute an EU-wide ban.
National policies on plastic bags vary widely. Denmark, Ireland and Bulgaria charge a tax on plastic bags, while in Belgium a fee is charged that goes to the plastic collection and recycling firm Fost Plus. Retailers in France, Germany, Portugal, Hungary and the Netherlands have begun charging for plastic bags voluntarily. In other countries, including the UK, plastic bags are still given away for free.
On the other side of the bench, the industry association PlasticsEurope, strongly disagrees with the ban, pointing to studies showing that the environmental impact of the plastic carrier bag over its life-cycle is lower than alternatives if the bags are reused. Retailers also object to bans, saying voluntary action is the best solution.
The consultation was criticized as well by the British Retail Consortium, which said respondents had been forced to choose between a ban and a charge. Although EEB said that this was not the case and respondents had been given the opportunity to give more nuanced answers.
However, the public consultation was intended to explore options to reduce the use of plastic bags and options to improve the requirements of biodegradability under EU law.