EU agrees landmark plan for single-use plastics ban

Published by Niall Sargent on

December 19th, 2018

After months of intense negotiations among the key European institutions, the EU has agreed on landmark laws to slash the availability of single-use plastics across the bloc.

Today, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union reached provisional agreement to support measures proposed by the European Commission earlier this year to cut down on single-use plastics and reduce marine plastic pollution.

The Commission’s proposal for a ban on the 10 single-use plastic products most often found on Europe’s beaches and sea, including plastic cotton buds, straws, plates and cutlery, as well as lost and abandoned fishing gear, will now form the basis of a new EU Directive on Single-Use Plastics.

The Directive will also extend responsibility for waste management, clean up and awareness-raising measures to producers including big tobacco companies and top polluters from the packaging industry.

The Directive will also open the possibility for EU countries to adopt market restrictions for food containers and cups for beverages and will ensure that all beverage bottles are produced from 30 per cent recycled content by 2030.

According to the Commission, the new measures will help to avoid 3.4 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as avoiding €22 billion in environmental damages by 2030.  The Directive’s measures will also save consumers a projected €6.5 billion, the Commission said.

Environmental ministers are expected to sign off on the Directive tomorrow after which Member States will have two years to transpose it into national law. The laws should come into force at the beginning of 2021 at the latest.

Citizens crying out for action

Mindy O’Brien of the environmental charity VOICE Ireland welcomed the move with Irish citizens “crying for meaningful action” from our Government to reduce our single-use plastic consumption levels. Within Europe, Ireland is currently the top producer of plastic waste, producing 61kg of plastic waste per person each year.

The EU policy will “set the map” for Ireland to move forward and adopt the Green Party’s Waste Reduction Bill, added Ms O’Brien, who also leads the Sick of Plastic campaign. The Green’s Bill outlines calls for a ban on single-use non-recyclable plastics such as coffee cups and plastic cutlery by 2020. The Bill, voted against by the Government last year, also seeks to introduce a deposit and return scheme (DRS) for beverage containers such as cans and plastic bottles.

The 90 per cent collection target for beverage containers means that the Government must put a DRS in place as it is the “only effective way to achieve this target”, Ms O’Brien said. “There is huge support in Ireland for this as around 30,000 people have signed Friends of the Earth and Uplift petitions asking the government to implement a DRS nationally.”

Still not enough

While the EU deserves praise for becoming the first region to take such significant steps, Meadhbh Bolger of Friends of the Earth Europe said that the Directive text still “does not fully address the urgency of the plastics crisis”.

She said that the plastics lobby, “backed up by some governments”, was effectively able to “delay and weaken the ambition” of the Directive. This includes, she said, a lack of a binding target to reduce the consumption of food containers and cups and no obligation for EU countries to adopt binding targets in this area.

Instead, the Directive text states that countries must “significantly reduce” their consumption, leaving it vague and open as to what level of action is required, she said. Ms Bolger also raised concern with the proposed delay of four years in achieving the 90 per cent of collection target for beverage containers, now pushed back from 2025 to 2029.

The final draft text also outlines a 2024 deadline to ensure that plastic drinks containers have their caps orlids attached to the containers, a setback of three years from the original proposal of 2021.

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Niall Sargent

Niall is the Editor of The Green News. He is a multimedia journalist, with an MA in Investigative Journalism from City University, London