European Parliament Approves Single Use Plastics Ban

In a significant step forward for tackling plastic waste, the European Parliament has overwhelmingly backed banning single use plastic items.

What the Ban Does

The ban, which extends to items such as straws, cotton buds and plastic cutlery, passed by a massive 571 votes to 53. Under the proposals, items like cotton swabs and disposable plastic plates will be banned by 2021. This also includes things like some food packaging which, as a number of surveys have pointed out, is often unnecessary and wasteful. The directive also calls for at least 90 percent of plastic bottles being recycled by 2025, asking that member states collect those bottles separately and repurpose them.

In an additional important step, MEPs also looked at novel sources of plastic, including the plastic in cigarette filters, saying that such plastics would have to be reduced first by 50 percent by 2025 and then by at least 80 percent by 2030.

The legislation also took aim at discarded fishing gear which can kill vast swathes of marine life. The directive asks that fishing operations collect at least 50 percent of their abandoned gear every year, with a recycling target of 15 percent by 2025.

This is part of an overall reform, holding member states of the EU more accountable for their plastic waste.

“We have adopted the most ambitious legislation against single-use plastics,” Frederique Ries, the MEP who proposed the bill, is quoted as saying. ”It is essential in order to protect the marine environment and reduce the costs of environmental damage attributed to plastic pollution in Europe, estimated at 22 billion euros ($25bn) by 2030.”

EU Single-Use Plastics Ban Isn’t Official Yet

Because of how the European Parliament works, this does not yet make the changes law. Instead, the proposals will have to go before the European Council and be examined by representatives and various experts.

However, there is a mood of optimism, since these proposals do not require radical changes or costs. Instead, they need concerted action, and that is something that the EU has shown it is capable of on environmental policy in the past. One major challenge may be the fact that China is no longer accepting waste for recycling, but the EU has taken steps to mitigate this, so it does not create an insurmountable road block.

The Council will have the proposals by November, and MEPs have indicated they believe there are the votes to push this through.

After that, member states will have to take those proposals and adapt them into domestic law. That would tend to lead to some countries adopting the policies wholeheartedly while some instead adopting only part of the directives. The EU can then use the guiding principles it has set out in this legislation to steer further action, something that is critical moving forward.

The UK, notably, could shirk this directive. While the UK’s Conservative government has claimed to be taking decisive action on plastics, it has failed to create an overarching policy and instead opted for incremental steps forward and a litany of consultations that, so far, have produced little forward momentum. With the UK leaving Europe, it could argue it is no longer bound by EU policy making.

Following the vote, Labour MEPs were quick to say that the UK should embrace these changes. “These new measures will slash the use of single-use plastics in the EU,” Seb Dance, Labour’s environment spokesman to the European parliament, told The Guardian. “With more than 700,000 plastic bottles littered in the UK every day, it would be negligent if the UK does not maintain these new targets if we leave the EU.”

Why the EU Plastic Ban Matters

There is an estimated 12.7 million tonnes of plastic funneled into our oceans every year. This leads to a wide range of harms, from killing wildlife, creating inhospitable environments, damaging precious natural wonders like coral reefs and creating a waste management problem for which we have no easy solution.

Research has shown that plastics degrade over time, and when that happens there is the potential for those tiny fragments  to compromise the health of living organisms. Fish and aquatic life are directly impacted, but the repercussions echo up the food chain.

Plastic’s effects on human health are not yet fully understood, but increasingly the science is indicating there is likely an impact to which, until now, we haven’t given enough attention.

These new EU proposals aren’t just a progressive step. They are entirely necessary, and the UK would be wise to not just embrace them and implement the plastic ban in full, but go beyond their ambitious targets.

Photo credit: Getty Images.

44 comments

Marie W
Marie W14 days ago

Thanks.

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Toni W
Toni W7 months ago

TYFS

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Toni W
Toni W7 months ago

TYFS

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Jetana A
Jetana A7 months ago

Thank you to the EU (and Australia, according to Glennis W). I do hope the US will follow their lead.

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Glennis W
Glennis W7 months ago

Australia has too Thank you for caring and sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis W7 months ago

Fantastic Thank you for caring and sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis W7 months ago

Petition signed and shared Thank you for caring and sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis W7 months ago

Thank you for caring and sharing

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Michael F
Michael F7 months ago

Noted & Signed, Thank You for Sharing This !!!

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Cara West
Cara West7 months ago

Brian F those so called ¨scientists"are there too just collect money and pocket it and say there so called facts. and at least i have a winning canidate and dont boast on and on about one old geriatric old man that lost right from the start.(bernie sanders)

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