Italy is banning the use of plastic shopping bags across the country starting January 1 and requiring shops and markets to switch to biodegradable bags.
Italian government is thought to be the first in the European Union to outlaw the use of the bags, although some European countries impose a levy on them.
Italians are among the bloc's top consumers of plastic bags using more than 300 per person annually. Italian Environment Minister Stefania Prestigiacomo said the ban is an important step against pollution and for recycling.
The government has promoted the use of cloth or paper bags and those made of recyclable materials. Some shoppers and retailers have complained that biodegradable bags, especially paper bags, are not safe because they break when they get wet.
Environmental groups have welcomed the ban, which will come into effect Saturday despite some opposition from retailers.
Italian manufacturers are working on producing shopping bags that can also be a fashion statement.
French and Belgian marine biologists warned Thursday that some 250 billion microscopic pieces of plastic bags are floating in the Mediterranean, creating a biological hazard.
The French news agency quoted scientist Francois Galgani of the French Institute for Exploration of the Sea as saying that the figure derives from samples of water taken off the French Italian and Spanish Mediterranean coasts.