Environment

EU pushes for ban on 10 most harmful single-use plastics

Plastic straws would be banned under new rules proposed by the EU
Plastic straws would be banned under new rules proposed by the EU
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Plastic straws would be banned under new rules proposed by the EU
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Plastic straws would be banned under new rules proposed by the EU

With millions of tonnes of plastic washing into the oceans each year wreaking untold damage on the marine environment, the European Union is moving to put the brakes on the problem. Under proposed new rules that would apply to the entire bloc, it has taken aim at the plastic products most commonly found on its beaches and seas, which together account for 70 percent of the continent's marine litter.

The new regulations fit into the EU's wider Plastics Strategy, which was announced earlier in the year. Europe alone generates 25 million tonnes of plastic waste each year and recycles less than 30 percent of it. The plan aims to put a dent in the problem by eliminating the use of non-recyclable plastics by 2030, while also establishing a circular economy around the material to increase the demand for recycled alternatives.

"Plastic waste is undeniably a big issue and Europeans need to act together to tackle this problem, because plastic waste ends up in our air, our soil, our oceans, and in our food," said EU First Vice-President Frans Timmermans. "Today's proposals will reduce single use plastics on our supermarket shelves through a range of measures. We will ban some of these items, and substitute them with cleaner alternatives so people can still use their favourite products."

The new rules would apply to the whole EU, but be tailored to different plastic products for maximum impact. They call for the banning of single-use plastic products, such as straws, cutlery, cotton buds, stirrers, balloon sticks and drinks containers, where alternatives are available and affordable.

They will also encourage the reduction of plastic food containers and drink cups by setting national reduction targets, offering sustainable alternatives, or simply not offering them for free at the point of sale.

Further onus will also be placed on manufacturers, who will be made to contribute to the costs of plastic waste management and cleanup, along with a responsibility to raise awareness of the environmental impacts of their products. They will also receive incentives to develop cleaner alternatives.

Other measures include an obligation for EU countries to collect 90 percent of single-use plastic drink bottles by 2025 through approaches such as deposit refund schemes, along with clearly labeled instructions for the safe disposal of things like sanitary towels and wet wipes.

The proposal also includes a big push for smarter use of plastic fishing gear like nets, lines and traps. The EU says only 1.5 percent of this is recycled and it accounts for 27 percent of all beach litter. Under the new rules, fishers will have new tools and incentives to retrieve the waste, while producers of this gear will be made to pay for waste collection from port facilities and awareness-raising measures.

If these rules are implemented, the EU says they would negate the emission of 3.4 million tonnes of C02 equivalent, avoid €22 billion (US$25 billion) in environmental damages by 2030 and save consumers a projected €6.5 billion (US$7.5 billion). The proposal is now headed to the European Parliament and Council for consideration.

Source: European Commission

13 comments
aki009
"save consumers a projected €6.5 billion" I'd really like to see the accounting on that, because to me it seems like a bold faced lie. (If something were to generate actual savings, it'd be picked up without any government intervention.) In reality this is another massive government mandated spend with one outcome: things will be more expensive going forward in Europe. (And I wouldn't be surprised if the governments will collect more tax revenue, too.)
owlbeyou
This is a condition of our 'disposable' society. Out of sight, out of mind. Plastic is an incredibly useful material, but it has become ubiquitous and taken for granted. Years ago when I learned that plastic polymers cannot be mixed, that much of the recycling was sent to China to be processed, that the recycling 'business' was predicated on profit, that much of the plastic waste ended up in the ocean, that plastics cannot be simply reconstituted into a fuel (yet)... I advocated locally for a return deposit on all plastic bottles and any moves (in Europe and elsewhere) towards reduction and reuse is to be encouraged. Plastics tend to get thrown into rivers (much of it in Asia) and guess where these rivers flow? This is a worldwide problem. Life started in the ocean, and if we kill the ocean by over fishing and using it as a dumping ground, it will be our undoing.
gbsderm
I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody's part.
Bobsue1946
Now if only North and South America had enough guts to cut the strings and start to deal with plastic and neonicotinoids like Europe. The rest of the world would follow suit.
BrianK56
This is a good move but the goals are set for too far out. Give humans 12 years @ 25 million tonnes and see what damage we can do. Before plastic water and soft drink bottles we functioned just fine. The water bottles were introduced for human convenience without thinking of the repercussions that we are seeing now.
EZ
How about "biodegradable" plastic? Stuff that's not make from oil. Oh no, we can't have that!
eMacPaul
Do they sell so many balloons in Europe that their sticks cause a significant problem?
ljaques
Unfortunately, banning plastics doesn't smarten-up the very people who are causing the problem in the first place, so this kind of ban needs to be accompanied by a nudge to the sociological system as well. Plastic cutlery should have been banned (or ignored) decades ago, they work so horribly. I picked up some stainless steel straws (thick, thin, curved, and straight) for about a buck apiece a few years ago. For soda drinkers, they're a no-brainer. I use the thick ones for my frozen fruit smoothees. Brushes are available for about the same price.
Douglas Bennett Rogers
Lawyers got rid of the glass pop bottle. Now, they are going for PET. Next, will be aluminum. This algorithm, of being paid to raise costs, is self destructive.
aksdad
Logic doesn't appear to be the basis for law-making in the EU. Plastic straws, cutlery, cotton buds, stirrers, balloon sticks and drinks containers are, coincidentally, the kinds of things beach-goers bring to the beach. Some of them are littering, end of story. Banning these products will unnecessarily punish hundreds of millions of European consumers, when simply slapping fines on litterbugs, providing secure trash receptacles and policing the beaches will do the trick. Not doing this will result in straws, cutlery, cotton buds, stirrers, balloon sticks and drinks containers made from paper or other materials littering the beaches in the future.