EU announces crackdown on single use and harmful plastics

New moves would require producers to help cover the costs of waste management

The EU Commission has presented proposals to ban single-use products, like plastic utensils, straws, coffee stirrers and cotton swabs, in the fight against plastic waste. Photograph: EPA/Hayoung Jeon

The EU Commission has presented proposals to ban single-use products, like plastic utensils, straws, coffee stirrers and cotton swabs, in the fight against plastic waste. Photograph: EPA/Hayoung Jeon

 

The EU has announced a crackdown on single use plastics in a bid to reduce pollution in seas which is harmful to the marine environment and potentially damaging to human health.

Under the new proposal, single-use plastic products will be banned from the market where alternatives are readily available and affordable.

For products without straight-forward alternatives, the EU focus will be on limiting their use through a national reduction in consumption and design and labelling requirements.

The EU is also planning a producer-funded, recycling scheme for plastics , similar to waste electronics or used tyres.

The EU Commission said the scheme will initially target the 10 single-use plastic products most often found on Europe’s beaches and seas, as well as lost and abandoned fishing gear which are a severe threat to marine life.

Specifically the draft law proposes:

– A ban on the sale of certain plastic items such as cotton bud sticks, disposable cutlery and balloon sticks;

– Only allowing plastic single-use drinks containers if their caps and lids remain attached;

– Reducing the use of plastic food containers and drinks cups by setting national targets or using levies;

– Requiring producers to help cover the costs of waste management, clean-up, and awareness-raising measures for food containers, packets and wrappers, drinks containers and cups, tobacco products with filters, wet wipes, balloons, and lightweight plastic bags;

– Standardised labelling for sanitary products, wet wipes and balloons with information about plastic content and the impact of littering;

– Obliging member states to collect 90 per cent of single-use plastic bottles by 2025, for example through extended producer responsibility schemes or deposit refund schemes; and

– Extended producer responsibility schemes to be established for fishing gear containing plastic.

EU Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans who is responsible for sustainable development said plastic waste was “a big problem” as it “ends up in our air, our soil, our oceans, and in our food”.

Impact on health

His fellow vice-president Jyrki Katainen who is responsible for jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness said plastics make up 85 per cent of marine litter and are present in the air, water and food having “an unknown impact” on people’s health.

The moves have been welcomed by Minister for Environment, Denis Naughten who said it envisages a range of measures available to EU member states to tackle single-use plastic items. He said he urged the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers to consider these proposals as soon as possible.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan also welcomed the moves but said they “mirror” elements of his party’s Waste Bill.

“The Government has fought against our Bill every step of the way but should now change tack and support what the Commission Environmental NGOs and the rest of the political system agree has to be done” he said.

Dublin Sinn Féin MEP Lynn Boylan said the proposals were “a step in a right direction but not ambitious enough to meet the threat of plastic pollution”.

“It is crucial that the concept of reduction remains at the heart of the EU plastics strategy and pressure is kept on industry to explore alternatives to single-use plastics” she said.