South Korea bans single-use plastic bags from major supermarkets

South Korea is joining a growing list of countries attempting to halt the use of disposable plastic shopping bags.

SOUTH KOREA — South Korea is joining a growing list of countries attempting to halt the use of disposable plastic shopping bags.

Major supermarkets will be banned from using plastic bags in an effort to conserve natural resources and manage recyclable waste, South Korea’s Ministry of Environment said Monday.

The ban, which was introduced as part of an amendment to an existing law, comes into effect on Tuesday. It affects 2,000 large supermarkets and 11,000 supermarkets with sales floor spaces of 165 square meters (1,776 square feet) or more.

Those stores are currently prohibited from providing customers with plastic bags for free. However, the new rules will bar single-use plastic bags, except to hold wet produce such as fish and meat.

Supermarkets will be required to offer customers alternatives such as cloth or paper bags that can be reused or recycled. Those who violate the ban could face fines of up to 3 million won (about US$2,700).

The ministry said it would also lead efforts to curb the use of other disposable plastic items including drinking straws.

Dozens of countries have imposed bans or taxes on single-use plastic bags, including Australia, the UK, France, China, New Zealand and the Netherlands. Kenya has perhaps the harshest law: those who violate the ban face four years in prison or a fine up to $39,000.

China last year banned imports of 24 varieties of solid waste, including types of plastic and unsorted paper, putting pressure on Europe to deal with its own waste.

In October, the European Parliament voted to ban a range of single-use plastics such as straws, cotton buds and cutlery, and to ensure most bottles are recycled to curb ocean pollution.

The World Economic Forum estimates that there are about 150 million tons of plastic in the world’s seas. A study published in Science in 2015 suggested that between 5 million and 13 million tons more flow into them each year.

Research shows there will be more plastic than fish by weight in the world’s oceans by 2050, which has spurred policy makers, individuals and companies into action.

However, a study released earlier this year found a 30% drop in plastic bags on the seabed in northern Europe, which scientists tied to the widespread introduction of plastic ban charges and restrictions.

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