European Parliament votes to ban single-use plastic

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The European Parliament voted to ban a wide range of single-use plastic items across the European Union yesterday (Wednesday 24th October). Single-use plastic products will be banned under plans backed by the Environment Committee to stop pollution of the oceans. Plastics such as cutlery, cotton bud sticks, straws, plates, balloon sticks and beverage stirrers will no longer appear on the EU market from 2021.  

The report proposed by ?Frédérique Ries (a Belgian member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe - ALDE) has been adopted with 51 votes to 10, with 3 abstentions. Ministers of European Parliament (MEPs) also added to the list: very lightweight plastic bags, products made of oxo-degradable plastics and fast-food containers made of expanded polystyrene.

The consumption of multiple other items, for which no alternative exists, will have to be reduced by member states in an “ambitious and sustained” manner by 2025. This also refers to single-use burger boxes, sandwich boxes or food containers for fruit and veg as well as desserts and ice-creams. Members of the EU will now have to draft national plans to encourage the use of items suitable for multiple uses, as well as educate on reusing and recycling. Other plastics, such as beverage bottles, will have to be collected separately and recycled at a rate of 90% by 2025.  

MEPs also agreed on reduction measures that should include waste from tobacco products, especially cigarette filters containing plastic. It will have to be reduced by 50% by 2015 and 80% by 2030. One of the MEPs said: “One cigarette butt can pollute between 500 and 1000 litres of water, and thrown on the roadway, it can take up to twelve years to disintegrate. They are the second most littered single-use plastic items”. Additionally, members of the EU should make sure that: “at least 50% of lost or abandoned fishing gear containing plastic is collected per year, with a recycling target of at least 15% by 2025.” From now on, tobacco companies and fishing gear producers will have to cover the costs of waste collection for those products, “including transport, treatment and litter collection”.  

According to the European Commission, more than 80% of marine litter is plastic. Together they constitute 70% of all marine litter products. Because of the fact that plastic decomposes very slowly, it accumulates in seas, oceans and beaches across the world. It is also found in marine species, and thus in the human food chain.  

Frédérique Ries said: “Europe is only responsible for a small part of the plastic polluting our oceans. It can and should, however, be a key player in finding a solution, leading at a global level, as it has done in the past in the fight against climate change. Prohibit, reduce, tax, but also replace, warn; the member states have many options to choose from. It is up to them to choose wisely and up to us to keep pushing for more.”  

The UK will also have to adhere to the rules and adjust the law if the ban becomes a fully structured directive before the end of the Brexit transition period.  

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