Extra Charge for Grocery Bags Nears as Law Is Finalized

A ban on small plastic bags and a charge for shopping bags at supermarkets and malls could be enforced within the year after four government ministries agreed on a draft law last week.

The sub-decree will ban the production and importing of plastic bags smaller than 25 cm wide and thinner than 0.03 cm, and require supermarkets to charge 500 riel (or about $0.13) for every bag used at the checkout, said Mak Bunthoeurn, a project officer at ACRA Foundation, a sustainable development NGO that helped the government draft the law.

“It is in the finalized version, and the Ministry of the Environment intends to have it done by the end of this year,” Mr. Bunthoeurn said.

The ministries of the environment, interior, finance and tourism drafted a “prakas”—a legally binding directive—earlier this year, detailing the ban and additional charge, but realized only a sub decree would have the necessary authority to enforce these measures, he said.

In response, the four ministries in July began turning the directive into a sub-decree to more strongly enforce its measures.

The proposed law is now being reviewed by the Ministry of Justice, which will pass it on for final approval by the Council of Ministers, said Sao Sopheap, a spokesman for the Ministry of Environment.

“The law aims at awakening customers’ attention to using plastic bags,” Mr. Sopheap said.

The law is part of ACRA’s campaign to reduce plastic bag usage by 50 percent in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville by 2019.

Campaigners envision the law changing consumer habits—as many as 10 million plastic bags are used daily in Phnom Penh, according to some estimates.

Even if the law takes effect this year, however, customers may not be charged at the checkout if supermarkets decide to foot the bill.

Sam Bach, a spokesman from local supermarket chain Thai Huot, said the company would take things slowly and avoid charging consumers until at least next year.

“We respect the law of Cambodia,” Mr. Bach said. “We do not reject this idea, but we cannot apply it to our customers. If we do it, they won’t come back again.”

During a launching ceremony for ACRA’s plastic bag reduction campaign on Friday, Eang Sophalleth, an undersecretary of state at the Environment Ministry, emphasized the burden that plastic bags place on society.

“They are a cause of environmental pollution,” Mr. Sophalleth said. “They break down into small pieces, fish swallow them and then people eat them.”

He also noted the bags can be a safety hazard when discarded improperly on the country’s roads.

“Additionally, used plastic bags can also cause traffic accidents when they fly into the faces of drivers,” he added. “They cover people’s eyes so they can’t see the roads.”

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Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that government ministries issued a prakas earlier this year regulating plastic bags.

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