Single-use plastics set to be banned in the EU

The European Commission has given the green light to the measure, the Parliament and Council of the EU have yet to decide. The legislative process should be concluded in spring 2019 for application in 2021.

Cotton swabs, straws, coffee stirrers… these single-use plastic products massively pollute the oceans. Against this scourge, the countries of the European Union decided this night to ban them. The text, debated in record time after an initial proposal from the European Commission at the end of May, bans ten categories of products which alone represent 70% of the waste discharged into the oceans and on the beaches.

This “trilogue” agreement, according to European jargon, was reached early in the morning between negotiators from the European Parliament, the Member States and the Commission, after several hours of final negotiations. However, to enter into force, the text will still have to receive the official consent of the two institutions, namely the Parliament and the Council of the EU. This legislative process should be completed in spring 2019, for application by 2021 and then in the States of the Union.

“Europeans are aware that plastic waste is a huge problem and the EU as a whole has shown real courage in tackling it, making it the world leader in the fight against marine plastic waste” , welcomed the First Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, quoted in a press release. The European Commission presents its directive as “the most ambitious legal instrument in the world on marine litter”.

The equivalent of 22 billion euros saved by 2030

Some single-use plastic products will be banned if there are plastic-free alternatives, such as cotton swabs, cutlery, plates, straws, drink stirrers or balloon sticks. For other products, the objective is to reduce their consumption at the national level, to be more demanding on their design and labeling or to set obligations for producers in terms of waste management and cleaning.

“Measured by weight, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050 if we continue to release plastic into the sea at the current rate. We cannot let this happen, ”warned Elisabeth Köstinger, Austrian Minister for Sustainable Development, whose country currently chairs the EU. In addition to protecting the oceans, the Commission argues that the directive has other “environmental and economic benefits”. For example, it will allow “to avoid the emission of 3.4 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent” but also “to avoid environmental damage which would cost the equivalent of 22 billion euros by 2030” and save consumers 6.5 billion euros.

The Rethink Plastic alliance, which brings together NGOs for a plastic-free future, described the text as “an important step forward”, but felt that it did not “fully respond to the urgency of the plastics crisis”. “The EU deserves praise for being the first region to introduce new laws aimed at reducing single-use plastic pollution and plastic waste in our fields, rivers and oceans. What is less laudable is that the plastic lobby – supported by some governments – has succeeded in delaying and weakening its ambition, ”said Meadhbh Bolger of Friends of the Earth Europe on behalf of Rethink Plastic.

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