The European Parliament voted to enact one of the most revolutionary efforts against one of the largest sources of pollution in our modern era. They Parliament voted with an overwhelming majority to put a ban on many of the single-use plastics by 2021. The banned items include drinking straws, disposable plates and disposable cutlery. The main purpose of this ban is to spearhead the efforts to reduce ocean waste. As mentioned, the measure was passed overwhelmingly with an almost unheard of margin, 571 to 53 votes with one 34 abstentions.
This all sounds amazing but it might just be a bit too early to celebrate as the European Council will have to lead negotiations with the government ministers form its member states before the legislation can be put into effect. The council is expected to make a decision around the 16thof December.
The Belgian Member of Parliament Frédérique Ries said in a press release that “It is essential in order to protect the marine environment and reduce the costs of environmental damage attributed to plastic pollution in Europe, estimated at 22 billion euros by 2030.” In essence, the ban will be on and it will involve items such as disposable tableware in terms of plates, cutlery, straws and cups as well as balloon sticks and cotton buds. The planned enforcement date of the ban is set for 2021.
However, the usage of single-use plastics for which no suiting alternatives can be found, will still be tolerated. Such items would include single-use food boxes, containers for fruits and vegetables and other food-items such as sauces or ice-cream. Nevertheless, the use of said items must be reduced by at least 25% by the year of 2025, according to the passed legislation.
The same measure also plans to crack down on fishing gear supplies, such as monofilament fishing lines and plastic fishing nets, as these make up a large number of the marine waste and take up to 600 years to decompose when left in the ocean. Additionally, it seeks to reduce the waste in the waterways, stemming form tobacco products, especially cigarette butts. Cigarette filters contain for the most part a large amount of plastic and this is supposed to be reduced by 50% until 2025 and by 80% until 2030.
The same piece of legislation also calls upon member states to ensure that a minimum of 50% of the lost or abandoned fishing gear containing plastic is collected on an annual basis, entailing at least a 15% recycling margin to those collected waste-items. Nonetheless, the measure will not only hold member states more responsible but also companies operating in the fishing as well as the tobacco industry. Said companies will have to cover the costs of the waste collection for their products “including transport, treatment and litter collection.”
The European Parliament also takes aim at the problems caused by drinking bottles. The target is to recycle at least 90% of all recyclable drink bottles by 2025.
These measures are the newest developments brought about by a growing global demand to reduce the waste problems imposed by single-use plastics. According to recent studies, 80% of the marine waste is plastic-based. However, the European Union is not the only legislative body taking an active stance. The Unted Nations also brought about a movement to eliminate plastic waste, more specifically, plastic straws. This movement is spread across the US and other developed nations and is backed by major companies. Starbucks, for example, said it would eliminate plastic straws worldwide by 2020 and Marriott International said it would do the same by the summer of 2019.
The UK is also taking a stance. No legislation has been passed here yet, but Labour MEPs are calling upon the government to adapt a similar legislation like the one proposed by the EU after UK’s Brexit. With more than 700,000 plastic bottles littered and improperly disposed across the UK, without a similar legislation, the UK would risk of becoming a dumping grounds for single use plastics.
In conclusion, the proposed legislation propels the EU into a leadership role in tackling the growing plastic pollution problem. This is however not going to be enough if not every member state participates or if global players in the food and beverage industry would be opposed to such changes. Nevertheless, we are quite hopeful that we are finally taking steps into the right direction.