The European Commission has launched a consultation on how best to reduce the use of plastic bags.

The web-based consultation will ask if charging and taxation would be the best method for reducing plastic bag use, or if an EU-wide ban would be more effective.

According to European Commission research, the average EU citizen consumes approximately 500 plastic carrier bags a year, and most of them are used only once.

European Commissioner for Environment Janez Potočnik urged the public to offer up ideas on how to cut down the use of plastic bags.

“Fifty years ago, the single-use plastic bag was almost unheard of – now we use them for a few minutes and they pollute our environment for decades,” he said. “But social attitudes are evolving and there is a widespread desire for change.

“That’s why we are looking at all the options, including a Europe-wide ban on plastic carrier bags,” added Potočnik. “We need the views of as many people as possible to complement our scientific analyses and help drive policy on this issue, which is suffocating our environment.”

Some EU states such as the Republic of Ireland and Italy have already taken action to reduce the use of plastic carrier bags through pricing measures, agreements with the retail sector and bans on certain types of bags, but no specific measures exist at the EU level.

Wales and Northern Ireland have introduced levies of 5p and 15p respectively. The government currently has no plans to impose a levy in England although some retailers have introduced their own charges to cut down on plastic bag use.

Closing date for the consultation is August 9, 2011, and submissions can be made at