Plastic bags are blamed for growing environmental damage around the world. As the campaign to ban them gathers momentum, here is a snapshot of how countries around the world are tackling the issue.
In May 2003, South Africa set the pace by banning thinner plastic bags as well as imposing levies on thicker ones. Eritrea, Rwanda and Somalia banned plastic bags in 2005. Tanzania (including Zanzibar) introduced a total ban on the carriers in 2006. Kenya and Uganda in mid-2007 banned thinner plastic bags and imposed levies on thicker ones.
In the US, San Francisco became the first city to ban plastic bags from large supermarkets and pharmacies in March 2007. Several months later the rest of California passed laws requiring large supermarkets to take back and recycle plastic bags.
Taiwan banned free light-weight plastic bags in March 2003. China, whose consumers use 3bn plastic bags a day, announced in January 2008 it would ban shops from handing out free plastic bags from June 2008, and make production of ultra-thin carriers illegal. The announcement led to the closure of China's largest plastic bag factory, in central Henan province. Australia announced plans in January 2008 to phase out the use of free plastic bags by the end of the year.
In Italy a levy was imposed on plastic bags a decade ago and an outright ban is due to be introduced by 2010. Since the Republic of Ireland passed a law in 2002 charging shoppers for every plastic bag, use of the carriers has plummeted by 90%. France plans to impose an outright ban by 2010. The country's biggest supermarket groups, like Carrefour, voluntarily stopped distributing free plastic bags in March 2007. Belgium imposed a tax on free bags in July 2007. Switzerland requires supermarkets to charge shoppers for bags. In the UK, the town of Modbury in Devon became the first place in Britain to outlaw plastic bags in April 2007. Others plan to follow suit. In February 2008, one of Britain's biggest retailers, Marks and Spencer, said it would stop handing out free plastic bags. Spain is planning to halve the consumption of plastic bags by 2009. In Germany and Holland, most supermarkets already charge for bags.
In 2002, Bangladesh imposed an outright ban on all thinner plastic bags in the capital, Dhaka, after they were found to have choked the drainage system during devastating floods. The measure triggered a revival of the local jute bag industry. In India Mumbai banned plastic bags in 2000 and the Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh made thinner bags illegal in 2003.