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‘A victory’

The EU has voted in favour of a ban on a range of single-use plastics
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
‘A victory’

The European Parliament has voted to ban a whole range of plastic products that are polluting land, rivers and seas.

A majority of MEPs backed a report that proposes banning straws, plates, cutlery and balloon sticks; stringent reduction targets for other plastics and the introduction of producer responsibility on food containers, tobacco products and wet wipes.

In the run-up to the vote, the UK government announced a more limited consultation on ‘banning the distribution and/or sale of plastic straws, stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds.’

‘This decision is a victory for the health of the planet. Plastic waste is a truly global problem, touching every corner of the planet. Shocking images of the scale of the problem and how plastic is flooding our oceans and destroying wildlife has helped push this issue up the political agenda.

‘Today’s vote is a sign that there is a global race to the top on addressing plastic pollution, and the EU has demonstrated it wants to be one of the front runners.’

MOLLY SCOTT CATO
Green MEP for the South West

Tackling microplastics

The European Parliament also agreed to a Green proposal to include a ban on oxo-plastic, which is often marketed as biodegradable but in reality fragments and turns into microplastic.

A recent report has identified for the first time that microplastics have been found in human stools and may be passing through the bodies of around 50% of the global population.

‘Single-use plastics are choking our marine environments and, as new research finds, polluting our bodies. It is vital, therefore, that so many MEPs have joined the Greens today in voting for strong proposals to ban some of the most toxic offenders.

‘The proposals aren’t a panacea, of course; there is much more to be done. The UK government has a recent history of claiming EU progress as their own. Rather than trying to take undeserved credit on this, I’m calling on Ministers to use EU action as a starting point for even tougher domestic measures. A race to the top on tackling plastic pollution would be welcome.’

KEITH TAYLOR
Green MEP for the South East and a member of the European Parliament’s Environment Committee

A missed opportunity?

Samantha Harding, litter programme director at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said it’s ‘fantastic’ to see other countries taking ‘such significant measures to tackle the scourge of drinks and food containers, as well as a wide-range of unnecessary single-use plastic products’.

But Samantha added that more must be done in addition to the ban. She suggests an ‘improvement tax’ on other plastic products that need to be redesigned or improved in terms of recyclability, charges to encourage reduced use of certain products and making use of ‘the power of deposits to encourage people to return packaging for recycling via collection systems paid for by the producers of that packaging.’

WWF said the European Parliament ‘lost a vital opportunity to eliminate legal loopholes associated with definitions of single-use plastic’.

Any product labelled as reusable or re-fillable, even if the product design demonstrates that it is not intended for multi-use, now falls outside the EU Single-use Plastic Directive scope.

It is therefore up to consumers to determine whether these items remain destined to be plastic pollution, rather than providing clear limitations on the plastic manufacturers from the beginning of the product’s life.

‘The European Parliament has stood up for ocean conservation and taken action on plastic pollution by removing unsustainable plastic items from our shop shelves and keeping them out of Nature. Clarity on fishing gear and support for deposit and return schemes are a critical step for protecting the hundreds of thousands of marine animals that die due to lost fishing nets every year. However, to not include light-weight plastic bags, one of the most pervasive forms of marine litter and one of the easiest plastic items to replace with sustainable alternatives, is extremely disappointing. Today’s consumption reduction targets mark a turning point for innovation and redesign of sustainable and circular product life cycles on the European market.’

SAMANTHA BURGESS
Head of Marine Policy at WWF European Policy Office

The details

WWF said the European Parliament’s amendments to the European Commission’s single-use plastic proposal put the EU ‘on track as a global leader in reducing plastic pollution and pioneering stronger circular economies’. Here are the highlights.

  • Market restrictions on single-use items for which reusable or alternative-material substitutes already exist, including plastic straws, stirrers, cotton bud sticks, cutlery and plates, balloon sticks, oxo-degradable plastic products and food and beverage take-away containers made of expanded polystyrene.
  • Ensuring that biodegradable plastics are subject to the same restrictions as other materials defined as substitutes for single-use plastic. Many materials currently labelled as biodegradable fail to degrade easily in Nature and break down into microplastics, increasing the burden of microplastics in the ocean and on environmental health.
  • Support for Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes which ensure plastic producers have responsibility to cover the costs of reducing the impacts of plastic litter on the environment. EPR will incentivise re-design for more sustainable products that are easier to recycle, motivating producers to collaborate with local municipalities to ensure high plastic collection rates.
  • The definition of fishing gear also includes gear used for fish farming and aquaculture. At least 700,000 tons of lost or abandoned fishing gear enters the ocean each year, harming or killing over 40% of marine mammals listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
  • Strengthening the European Commission’s original proposal by establishing clear consumption reduction targets for cigarette filters made of plastic by 80% by 2030 and for throwaway food containers and cups by 25% by 2025.

‘Ultimately, this is not just a problem about plastic: it is generated by mass consumerism, mass disposability and an economic system that seeks endless growth. The solutions are structural and political and involve taking on the commercial interests profiting from single-use plastic.’

MOLLY SCOTT CATO
Green MEP for the South West

Final negotiations on the EU Single-use Plastics Directive between the European Council and the European Parliament begin early next month. WWF is calling on the Austrian Presidency leading the European Council to support the measures so far adopted by the European Parliament, and to increase the ambition for more measures to support a sustainable, circular economy that keeps plastic waste out of Nature.

Click here to find out about the microplastics in your laundry.

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