Shops and supermarkets across Italy are doling out their last plastic bags today, before a nationwide ban forces them to swap plastic for more environmentally friendly paper or fabric bags.
Italy is Europe's biggest consumer of plastic bags, using more than 20 billion annually.
The new ban on plastic bags has been phased in gradually since 2006, when Italian lawmakers first approved the measure. But an original deadline of January 2010 was postponed because of opposition from industry groups, who complained that the ban could create chaos in supermarkets and hurt local plastics manufacturers.
The full ban will now go into effect on Saturday. It requires all retailers to offer customers only special biodegradable plastic bags, or ones made of paper or fabric. The emphasis is on reusable bags, which the Italian government is promoting as fashionable as well as earth-friendly.
"This marks a key step forward in the fight against pollution, and it makes us all more responsible in terms of recycling," Italy's environment minister, Stefania Prestigiacomo, told Agence France-Presse.
Other European cities have implemented similar measures, but Italy's is believed to be the first nationwide ban on plastic bags on the continent. Many countries charge customers for plastic bags.