EU Agrees to Slash Single-Use Plastics to Halt Marine Pollution
Negotiators from the European Parliament and Council reached a provisional agreement on Wednesday to reduce use or eliminate plastic products such as cigarette butts, straws, bottles, cutlery and cotton buds. The European Commission—the EU's executive arm—first introduced the sweeping proposal in May.
If it becomes law, the directive "will reduce the environmental damage bill by €22 billion—the estimated cost of plastic pollution in Europe until 2030," said Belgian MEP Frédérique Ries, who helped lead the 12.5-hour negotiations, in a press release.
The move would place the European Union as a world leader in slashing use of the material. Just yesterday, Britain's Royal Statistical Society highlighted that 90.5 percent of all plastic waste has never been recycled, leaving the vast majority of this trash accumulating in landfills or the natural environment.
"Europe now has a legislative model to defend and promote at [an] international level, given the global nature of the issue of marine pollution involving plastics," Ries added.
The new rules would ban throwaway plastics for which readily available and affordable alternatives exist, for instance:
- Plastic cutlery (forks, knives, spoons and chopsticks)
- Plastic plates
- Plastic straws
- Food containers made of expanded polystyrene
- Beverage containers made of expanded polystyrene
- Cups for beverages made of expanded polystyrene
- Products made from oxo-degradable plastic (plastics that oxidize into micro fragments, which contributes to microplastic pollution)
- Cotton bud sticks made of plastic
Other measures are aimed at reducing the use of certain plastics:
- For plastic bottles, the most commonly littered items on European beaches, member states will have a collection target of 77 percent by 2025 and 90 percent by 2029.
- Marking on wet wipe packaging that informs consumers of the presence of plastic and how it harms the environment.
- Cigarettes and other tobacco products that contain filters with plastic—the second most littered item on Europe's beaches—will also need a marking on their packaging about the presence of plastic.
- A binding target of at least 25 percent of recycled plastic for PET beverage bottles from 2025 onwards and at least 30 percent by 2030.
- Producers will also have to help cover waste management and cleanup costs.
The provisional agreement reached Wednesday still needs formal approval by the European Parliament and the Council. Once that's secured, the directive will be published in the EU's Official Journal and the EU's 28-member states will have to transpose it after two years, according to a European Commission press release.
Environmentalists welcomed the deal but urged the lawmakers to go further in transitioning to sustainable alternatives.
"The EU deserves praise for being the first region to introduce new laws to reduce single-use plastics and slash plastic pollution in our fields, rivers and oceans," said Meadhbh Bolger, resource justice campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, on behalf of Rethink Plastic in a press release.
"What's less laudable is that the plastics lobby—backed up by some governments—was able to delay and weaken the ambition," Bolger added. "Citizens across Europe want to see an end to our throwaway culture and politicians have taken the first step. The time is ripe for Europe to transition away from single-use plastics to reusables."