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Plastic bags on the way out in Austria’s supermarkets

Most of Austria’s larger supermarket chains have now voluntarily stopped providing their customers with plastic bags, as of January 1st. Instead, customers can buy a sturdy, reusable shopping bag at the checkout, if they haven’t brought their own from home.

Plastic bags on the way out in Austria's supermarkets
A discarded plastic bag on a beach.

This is due to an agreement reached between Austria’s Ministry of the Environment and environmental protection organizations, designed to help implement an EU directive which aims to reduce the consumption of lightweight plastic carrier bags.

An average plastic bag takes one second to make, is used for roughly 20 minutes and takes up to 400 years to degrade naturally.

Supermarkets belonging to the REWE group (which includes Billa, Penny, Merkur and Bipa) are still selling their stock of reusable plastic bags, but have said they will not be ordering any more once they have sold out.

The REWE group says this will mean a saving of 28 million reusable plastic bags. However, the little bags you get for fruit and vegetables will still be available, as will the plastic bags used to wrap meat or fish – which REWE says are necessary for hygiene standards.

However, environmentalists say that the voluntary ban on plastic bags does not go far enough and that single use fruit and veg bags should be banned altogether. Herwig Höfferer from Carinthia’s Chamber of Labour said that people should be encouraged to transport their fruits and vegetables home in their own bags. He recommends buying reusable cloth or paper bags, which can be left in your car or bag and used again and again.

Scientists estimate that every square mile of ocean contains approximately 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in it. According to Austrian NGO Global 2000, 40 tonnes of plastic waste end up in the Danube river every year.

 

EUROPEAN UNION

EU court rejects Austria case against Hungary nuclear plant

The EU's second highest court on Wednesday rejected a complaint by Austria against a European Commission decision to approve the expansion of a nuclear plant in neighbouring Hungary with Russian aid.

EU court rejects Austria case against Hungary nuclear plant

Staunchly anti-nuclear Austria lodged the legal complaint in 2018 after the European Union’s executive arm allowed the expansion of the Paks nuclear plant outside the Hungarian capital Budapest with a 10-billion-euro ($12.4 billion) Russian loan.

The plant is Hungary’s only nuclear facility and supplies around 40 percent of its electricity needs.

In its decision the commission judged that the project met EU rules on state aid, but Austria disputed this.

The General Court of the EU ruled Wednesday that “member states are free to determine the composition of their own energy mix and that the Commission cannot require that state financing be allocated to alternative energy sources.”

READ ALSO: Why is Austria so anti nuclear power? 

Hungary aims to have two new reactors enter service by 2030, more than doubling the plant’s current capacity with the 12.5-billion-euro construction. The Paks plant was built with Soviet-era technology in the 1980s during Hungary’s communist period. 

The construction of two new reactors is part of a 2014 deal struck between Hungary’s right-wing Prime Minister Victor Orban and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The work is carried out by Moscow’s state-owned nuclear agency Rosatom.

The details of the deal have been classified for 30 years for “national security reasons” with critics alleging this could conceal corruption.

READ ALSO: Reader question: What are the chances of blackouts in Austria this winter?

Since the late 1970s, Austria has been fiercely anti-nuclear, starting with an unprecedented vote by its population that prevented the country’s only plant from providing a watt of power.

Last month, the Alpine EU member filed a complaint with the European Court of Justice over the bloc’s decision to label nuclear power as green.

In 2020, the top EU court threw out an appeal by Austria to find British government subsidies for the nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point in breach of the bloc’s state aid rules.

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