The ban came into force on July 1, following amendments adopted last November to the country’s “Law on the Protection of the Environment.” Those amendments had already resulted in a ban, starting at the beginning of 2021, on plastic bags of thickness up to 15 microns.
The new practice follows the example of neighboring Georgia and Turkey, which implemented similar bans which “produced good results,” said Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources Mukhtar Babayev, first rolling out the strategy in May 2020. Government statistics have shown that the average Azerbaijani produces about 24 kilograms of plastic waste annually.
In many countries where such bans have been adopted there has been grumbling from major users of plastic bags, but the response in Azerbaijan has been muted.
Ahead of the implementation, the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources held a meeting with the representatives from big grocery store chains; a ministry representative stressed “the damage plastics cause both to our health and to the environment.” The fines for violators could reach up to 4,000 manats ($2,350).
It’s not clear what inspired Azerbaijan – an oil- and gas-producing country, which could in theory have a plastics industry – to adopt the ban, said Javid Gara, an environmental activist and cofounder of the organization ecofront.
“There was no social demand to want the plastic ban,” Gara told Eurasianet. “Most probably it’s a personal decision of someone in the ruling family or the government who cares about nature.”
Because the ban was not subject to public discussion, it is possible that there will be some problematic cases or exceptions that emerge, Gara said. “So it’s likely that some people will want to evade [the ban], and there might be problems monitoring it,” he said.
The State Statistics Committee of Azerbaijan reported that in 2017, the last year for which statistics were available, the production of plastic pockets, bags, and plates in Azerbaijan had risen 2.5 times since 2010. Imports of the same products had risen fivefold since 2009.
Heydar Isayev is a journalist based in Baku.