No more free plastic bags in 2016

No more free plastic bags in 2016

In an attempt to decrease pollution caused by the large number of plastic bags in the environment, Dutch businesses are no longer allowed to provide plastic carrier bags free of charge to customers.

The new law went into effect on January 1, 2016.

Environmental pollution

The initiative is also an effort to decrease the waste of natural resources. Worldwide an average of 3 billion plastic bags are used every year, according to the Dutch government.

A large portion of these end up in landfills or the ocean, with the "plastic soup" in the Great Pacific garbage patch as best-known example.

EU law

The new Dutch law is the result of EU legislation passed in 2015 that aims to gradually lower the number of plastic bags EU citizens use each year.

Facts and figures

In 2010 there were 98,6 billion plastic carrier bags (1,61 metric tonnes) placed on the EU market. It is estimated that the vast majority of these bags (89 percent) were single-use.

This means that every EU citizen used around 198 plastic carrier bags in 2010, which represents more than one bag per day for each European household.

By 2019, the EU wants to decrease this number to 90 bags per person per year, followed by 40 bags in 2025.


While the majority of Dutch supermarkets and do-it-yourself stores have been charging around 20 cents for plastic bags for some time, in many smaller chains and stores customers were still provided with bags for free, as a service.


In some cases, free bags will still be allowed as long as the plastic isn’t thicker than 0,0015 mm.

Protecting food

The very thin plastic bags are allowed when they protect foodstuffs against dirt and contamination with pathogens.

Examples include unpackaged fruit such as strawberries and unpackaged vegetables such as green beans.  

The thin bags are also allowed in situations when food can become unfit for consumption due to exposure.

This mainly refers to fresh fish, raw meat and poultry sold in the open from open containers.

Counteracting food waste

Very thin plastic bags can still be used when they help to prevent food being wasted, in particular for the sale of small quantities of food.

Examples here include buying a few apples at the market or a few bread rolls at the bakery.

Sealed plastic tax-free bags

Due to airport regulations, liquids, aerosol cans and gels that are purchased in duty-free shops in airports have to be sealed in a transparent plastic bag.

These will remain free of charge for the customer. The "See Buy Fly" bags still cost money, however.

Cost for consumers

The new Dutch law states that businesses have the freedom to decide how much they will charge customers for a plastic bag. The official guideline is 25 cents per bag.

Thomas Lundberg


Thomas Lundberg

Born as a Swede in the Netherlands, this life-long expat has spent his time in Belgium, the United States and Amsterdam. He began his professional career as a regional news...

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