Green party politicians reacted in anger on Tuesday after the federal environment commission decided not to ban plastic bags by law.
“Besides its ecological impact, it's an irresponsible and antidemocratic decision,” said Green MP Adèle Thorens to daily Le Matin.
According to the federal government a ban would not be proportional because “environmental pollution in Switzerland caused by throwing away plastic bags is limited and the ecological benefits of banning them are uncertain”, reported Le Matin.
The commission also argued that instead of instigating a blanket ban on free plastic bags – which would necessitate a change to Swiss environment law – shops should come to their own agreement on the subject.
Patrick Marty, spokesman for Swiss commerce organization IG DHS, told The Local that voluntary action on the part of supermarkets would be a better solution anyway.
“In our opinion we don't need a specific law,” he said.
“If it's possible to achieve the objectives in a voluntary manner, then a law won't be necessary. For us, the traders, it's an effective solution."
The IG DHS, which represents shops including Switzerland's biggest supermarkets, Migros and Coop, has teamed up with the Swiss Retail Federation to launch the idea of withdrawing single-use free plastic bags from food shops in the country.
So far it has 60-70 percent of shops on board, said Marty.
“At the moment we think we can reduce the volume of plastic bags by 80 percent,” he told The Local, but pointed out that there would have to be exceptions for convenience stores, where purchases are made spontaneously.
“We have done tests and found that in convenience shops, even if plastic bags cost something, there is no reduction in volume.”
“So we must have exceptions, and exceptions would not be possible with a total ban. Because of that I think we can arrange things more effectively with the solution that we propose.”
Switzerland lags behind other countries in Europe on the issue.
France is set to formally ban plastic bags this year though most supermarkets had long stopped offering them under a voluntary agreement dating from 2002.
And a new law in the UK last year banned retailers with more than 250 employees from offering free plastic bags.
So why has Switzerland reacted slowly to the issue?
“It's clear that the situation regarding pollution created by plastic bags is not as bad as in countries that have coastlines,” Marty told The Local.
“Also, Switzerland has a very efficient rubbish management system. Here, the pollution created by plastic bags is less than one percent of the total volume of plastic.”
Marty added that the voluntary agreement could take up to two years to come into force.