A bill to prohibit the use of plastic bags by commercial establishments passed from a legislative committee to the full assembly Thursday.
The Comisión Permanente Especial de Ambiente unanimously voted to approve No. 18.349 that will forbid the use of plastic bags that are not biodegradable.
One catch is that even if passed, the full measure will not go into effect for five years. That is supposed to give officials time to change the consumer culture.
However, it appears that as soon as the measure would go into effect, merchants must charge a fair price for the bags. Violation brings steep fines.
The Ministerio de Salud would be given six months after passage and publication to set up a plan to put the measure into practice. The ministry and the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía would be responsible for approving biodegradable bags.
The bill says that plastic bags create trash and are difficult to manage. It encourages the use of cloth bags or bags totally biodegradable.
The bill contains an exception for products that must be kept in plastic bags, such as ice.
As soon as the measure goes into effect, the text says that merchants must begin charging customers for the bags. Such laws elsewhere have resulted in steep declines in the use of plastic bags.
An online report from Scotland said that bag use there declined 80 percent or the equivalent of 640 million bags.
The U.S. State of California has a patchwork of bag laws and a referendum has been proposed to pass a unified state bill. Bags cost up to 10 U.S. cents there, and the money goes to environmental funds.
A summary of the Costa Rica bill does not say what will happen to the fees charged for bags, and the full text was not available Thursday night.
The world uses a trillions bags each year, online reports say.
The retail giant PriceSmart does not provide free bags to customers, although shoppers can wheel purchases to their vehicle in a cart.
Most fabric bags used by shoppers come from Asia, and they have their own environmental costs as well as the need for washing after repeated uses. Single-use plastic bags frequently end up in the ocean where they may be mistaken for jellyfish by hungry sea turtles.