As of January 1, 2011, plastic bags are banned in Italy's retail stores.
The country goes through about 20 billion bags a year - 400 per person - about 25% of the plastic bags produced and used in Europe.
Although retailers can offer shoppers bags made from biodegradable plastic, cloth or paper, retailers "braced for chaos!"
Legislation to ban the bags passed in late 2006 but implementation was delayed because of industry opposition. Environment Minister Stefania Prestigiacomo pushed it through last week in a blanket decree.
Rubber and plastics companies in Italy say they will have to spend about 30,000-50,000 euros per plant to switch machinery to make biodegradable bags.
Legambiente, an Italian environmental group, estimates the ban will reduce carbon emissions in Italy by 180 million tons a year.
Ireland cut plastic bag use 90% in the first week when it levied a $0.20 charge in 2003.
250 billion plastic fragments in Mediterranean
Plastic bags have become a serious hazard to marine life around the world. One example comes from researchers in the Mediterranean, who found 250 billion microscopic pieces of plastic floating on the surface.
Francois Galgani, from the French Institute for Exploration of the Sea (Ifremer), estimates there are about 500 tons in the Mediterranean. 90% of samples taken from the top 4-6 inches of water had plastic fragments.
The tiny pieces of plastic mix with plankton. Small fish eat the plankton and then move up the food chain as they are eaten by larger fish.