After months of intense negotiations, the EU has agreed to ban some single-use plastics, including disposable cutlery, plates and straws, in an effort to cut marine pollution.
Representatives from the EU's member states and the European Parliament said on Wednesday they had agreed a new directive to reduce single-use plastics, including a ban on some such substances.
The agreement follows a recommendation made earlier this year by the European Commission.
Once the ban is formally approved, countries will have two years to implement it.
The ban will also apply to plastic cotton buds, drink stirrers, balloon sticks, and single-use polystyrene food and beverage containers.
The EU also wants to increase the use of recycled plastic and reduce the amount of minute plastic particles released from wet wipes, cigarette stubs and other items, in response to growing concern about their accumulation in oceans.
Under the new laws, plastic PET bottles sold in the EU will have to contain at least 25 per cent recycled plastic from 2025, rising to 30 per cent by 2030.
“When we have a situation where one year you can bring your fish home in a plastic bag, and the next year you are bringing that bag home in a fish, we have to work hard and work fast,” said Karmenu Vella, European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.
Almost 60 per cent of the 25.8 million metric tonnes of plastic waste produced in the bloc each year comes from packaging, the European Commission estimates. It says that much of this waste is exported to Third World countries rather than recycled.
German environmental group Nabu claims that about 350,000 metric tonnes of plastic waste could be prevented each year in Germany alone with the ban.
‘Significant step forward’
Responding to the agreement, Voice of Irish Concern for the Environment said it marked a significant step forward in tackling plastic pollution, but its compromise positions extend deadlines for action recommended by the commission, which means it does not fully address the urgency of the issue.
“We are delighted that the EU is the first region to introduce new laws to reduce single-use plastics and slash plastic pollution in our fields, rivers and oceans,” said Voice co-ordinator Mindy O’Brien.
“Irish citizens have been crying for meaningful action by the Government to reduce our single-use plastic consumption levels.
"Now that the EU has agreed to a common policy, it will set the map for Ireland to move forward to adopt the Waste Reduction Bill," Ms O'Brien said.
The new measures include a requirement that manufacturers pay for waste management and clean-up of several single-use plastic items, including cigarette butts and fishing gear.
However, the agreement falls short of what was needed to fully tackle the plastics crisis, with the absence of a binding EU-wide target to reduce the consumption of food containers and cups and no obligation for EU countries to adopt targets, Ms O’Brien said.
The deadline originally proposed by the European Commission to ensure 90 per cent of plastic bottles are collected separately has also been pushed back by four years – from 2025 to 2029.
Environment ministers are expected to sign off on the agreed directive on Friday.
People Before Profit councillor Dave O’Keeffe of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown called on the Government to approve immediately the directive.
“This directive should be binding. Ireland is the EU leader in single-use plastics, producing 61kg of disposable plastic per person, per year. We cannot avoid dealing with this problem anymore.
“Single-use plastics are an absolute disaster for our oceans and its inhabitants, and we can no longer keep our head in the sand and hope the problem fixes itself; we all need to take action.”