Plastic bag floating in the ocean with seaweed

EU targets cotton buds, balloon sticks and cutlery in single-use plastics ban

Image credit: Dreamstime

The European Commission has proposed a ban on the most common single-use plastic items, along with a series of other measures to reduce the amount of plastic waste reaching the oceans.

Plastics constitute 85 per cent of marine litter worldwide, and it has been estimated that by 2050 there could be a greater mass of plastic than fish in the oceans, with plastic pollution in the sea trebling just within a decade. The pressing problem of plastic pollution of the oceans is associated with severe damage to marine life, and unknown health complications in people who consume fish.

According to the European Commission, its proposed measures – which include a ban on some single-use plastic items, including cotton buds, cutlery, plates, straws, drink stirrers and balloon sticks – is a “proportionate” measure to deal with plastic pollution. The ten specified items included in the ban together constitute 70 per cent of all marine litter.

“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 Vice-President Frans Timmermans in a statement.

 “[These] 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.”

In February 2018, Timmermans become embroiled in a brief Twitter spat with environment secretary Michael Gove, after Gove claimed that EU legislation could interfere with a UK ban on disposable plastic straws. The UK government has vowed to eliminate avoidable plastic waste in the UK by 2042.

Timmermans responded to Gove, stating that the EU is “one step ahead”, and would be presenting legislation to restrict single-use plastics this year.

While an outright ban will be applied to non-recyclable single-use plastics with affordable alternatives, products without practical alternatives will instead be subjected to limitations on consumption, as well as labelling requirements (for appropriate disposal and recycling) and changes to design. For instance, single-use drinks containers will require their caps and lids to remain attached.

In addition to adhering to EU-wide targets – such as collecting 90 per cent of all plastic bottles by 2025 – member states will be required to take their own action such as by setting their own reduction targets. Meanwhile, producers will be required to cover some of the costs of disposing of items containing plastic.

The measures follow the EU Plastic Bags Directive of 2015, which aimed to help member states halve their use of single-use plastic bags by 2019, and which has already resulted in a significant reduction in use.

“Plastic can be fantastic, but we need to use it more responsibly. Single use plastics are not a smart economic or environmental choice, and today’s proposals will help business and consumers to move towards sustainable alternatives,” said Vice-President Jyrki Katainen.

“This is an opportunity for Europe to lead the way, creating products that the world will demand for decades to come, and extracting more economic value from our precious and limited resources.”

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