EU policy-makers are considering introducing laws to curb single use of plastics such as plastic cups and certain packaging, according to a leaked document seen by the EEB.
The draft strategy, published in Politico, reveals that the European Commission is pushing for measures to reduce use of throw-away plastics and increase plastic reuse and recycling.
The environmental and health impacts of plastic pollution can no longer be ignored.
More than 8 million tonnes of plastic leak into the ocean each year, which is equivalent to dumping a plastic waste collection truck into the sea every minute.
In the best-case scenario, the litter reaches our beaches and landscapes where it remains for decades. Plastic bags, bottles, cutlery and other disposable items are amongst the most littered items.
But over time plastic breaks in micro fragments that can enter the food chain and end up on our plate, penetrating cells or even organs. Small plastic parts also are added in products such as paints, cosmetics and detergents, or released by plastic production facilities, abrasion from synthetic fibers, tyres and other sources.
In the summer, a study by Plymouth University found plastic in a third of UK-caught fish, including cod, haddock, mackerel and shellfish.
Micro-plastics may be invisible to the human eye, but increasing research on its health implications has prompted calls for a swift global action.
The European Commission’s strategy, albeit just a draft, proposes the introduction of EU-wide measures to discourage the use of single-use plastic items and reduce packaging waste by boosting reuse and recycling. It also suggests governments should ban plastic particles of less than one millimeter, which are used in products such as cosmetics or detergents, and pose a serious risk to human health.
EEB Senior Policy Officer for Product Policy Carsten Wachholz praised the draft, saying:
“The EU must implement effective measures in member states in order to help them fight such a fast-developing environmental and health catastrophe.“
But he warned that ambition on plastic pollution must remain high until the end of the year, when the final EU Plastics Strategy is expected to be published.
“Single-use items like light-weight plastic wrappings or plastic cups are usually used for no longer than 5 minutes. This is a waste of resources and a serious environmental issue that we can’t afford anymore,” Wachholz said.
An increasing number of member states have already introduced fees on plastic bags to reduce pollution.
Ireland introduced a €0.15 plastic bag levy in 2002. As a result, discarded plastic bags fell from 5% of litter pollution in 2001 to 0.13% in 2015. The levy also generated €200 million over a 12-year period, and it is regarded as one of the most successful and well-received environmental measures ever introduced.
The draft EU strategy proposes a similar policy approach to curb the consumption of other single-use plastic items , but Frans Timmermans, vice president of the European commission, has recently ruled out charges on single-use plastics.
“Levies are among the most successful tools to influence positive behaviour while also increasing government revenue. We should learn from the positive outcome we have seen in countries like Ireland, and expand fees to also include other throw-away products such as plastic cutlery, drink cups, straws, and introduce deposit schemes for plastic bottles in all EU Member States,” Wachholz added.
This year, more than 630.000 people from all over Europe signed a petition calling on the European Commission to tackle plastic pollution.