What does the ban on free plastic bags entail for shopkeepers?

With effect from 1 January 2016, you may no longer provide your customers with a free plastic bag. Instead, you may sell them a plastic bag. These may also be reusable bags. In addition, you may install a plastic bag container in your shop: a container for customers to dispose of their plastic bag or take one out to be reused.

To whom does the ban apply?

The ban on free plastic bags extends to, inter alia:

  • shops (including pharmacies); 
  • catering establishments;
  • petrol stations;
  • street traders (door to door sales, markets, roadside sales); 
  • hairdressers;
  • museums;
  • web shops;
  • mail order companies. 

Bags with a plastic lining or coating (laminated bags) may no longer be provided free of charge either. The ban also extends to bags made of recycled materials (“bio-based”) or bio-degradable materials.

When are free plastic bags allowed?

Protection of foodstuffs

You may provide your customers with a very thin plastic bag (wall thickness 0.015 millimetres) free of charge if this is needed to:

  • protect loose foodstuffs against dirt and pathogens;
  • contain seepage from raw fish, raw meat, or raw poultry in non-sealed packaging. Seepage of such products may result in cross-infection with other foodstuffs, thus rendering them unfit for consumption;
  • counteract wastage of loose foodstuffs such as loose fruit or buns.

In duty-free shops for fluids, aerosol cans, and gels

Furthermore, free plastic bags are permitted in duty-free shops at airports for purchases of fluids, aerosol cans, or gels. Such products must be packaged in a clear plastic bag (no requirements regarding wall thickness).

For advertising purposes, but not coupled with sales

Shopkeepers may distribute free plastic bags for publicity purposes. However, they may not do so simultaneously with the sale of products.

Tips for shopkeepers

  • Encourage customers to bring their own bags. 
  • Provide good-quality, sturdy, reusable bags and charge a price for them. This makes consumers aware of the value of the bag.
  • Have bags printed with a distinct logo indicating their base material (paper, plastic, et cetera). A clear logo helps consumers properly dispose of the bag.

You are allowed to give away paper bags, cloth bags and gunny sacks free of charge. The ban does not extend to such bags. However, the ban does apply to paper bags or gunny sacks with a plastic coating or lining.

Price of plastic bags

You are free to fix the price you charge for a plastic bag. The government recommends a price of EUR 0.25 per bag. The price of the bag is added to the sales price. The sale of a plastic bag is subject to a 21% VAT charge. For that reason, the price paid for the bag should be stated on your customer’s receipt.

Monitoring of compliance with the ban

The Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (ILT) monitors compliance with the ban on free plastic bags. To this end, the Inspectorate may visit your shop or conduct an administrative inspection. You must be able to demonstrate that you are charging your customers money for plastic bags, rather than giving them away free of charge.

Information package regarding ban on free plastic bags

A (digital) information package is available regarding the ban on free plastic bags. This package comprises resources you may use to inform your customers of the ban.