Need a bag? A review of public policies on plastic carrier bags – Where, how and to what effect?

Tobias Dan Nielsen, Karl Holmberg, Johannes Stripple

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

68 Citations (SciVal)


The plastic carrier bag epitomises many of the features that have transformed plastics into a material that defines our contemporary modern culture. The versatility, durability, strength and low cost have made it into an indispensable companion for consumers. In parallel with plastic becoming an increasingly contested material, the plastic carrier bag has emerged as a controversial object in many jurisdictions. This paper explores where, how and to what extent public authorities in different cases across the globe regulate plastic carrier bags. The number of public policies on plastic carrier bags has more than tripled since 2010, and they are now found on all continents, ranging from the municipal to the intergovernmental level. They mainly come in the form of either bans or levies, with the former being predominant. There have been many examples of policies leading to reduced consumption of plastic carrier bags, however this paper also identifies key challenges, including resistance towards plastic carrier bag regulations, uncertainty in measuring the effects, and the undesired side-effects. Far from being a simple issue, public policies on plastic carrier bags highlight the complexity of governing plastics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)428-440
Number of pages13
JournalWaste Management: international journal of integrated waste management, science and technology
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Political Science (excluding Public Administration Studies and Globalization Studies)
  • Environmental Sciences


  • Bans
  • Environmental governance
  • Levies
  • Plastic bags
  • Pollution
  • Public policy


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