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The European Union (EU) is resolute about tackling its plastic waste. All the 28 countries within the union unanimously agreed to eliminate single-use items such as plastic straws and cutlery, and polystyrene drink and food containers by 2021. The 10 items impacted by the ban account for 70 % of Europe’s marine litter, according to the EU.
This ban comes in the wake of the decision taken by the European Commission (EC) back in May. Now, the European Parliament and Council have to approve this measure. Member states will be given a time frame of two years for implementation. This ban is expected to reduce the emission of carbon dioxide by over 3 million tons and make savings amounting to 22 billion Euros that countries would have otherwise had to incur in terms of environmental damage. This ban should help consumers save an estimated 6.5 billion Euros as well.
The EU came up with these rules as the amount of harmful plastic litter in seas and oceans keep growing. The targeted ban comprises 10 single-use plastic items that are most often found in the seas and on the beaches of Europe. The new rules have been tailored to trigger the best results. In other words, different plastic products will be impacted by different measures.
The ban will apply to plastic cotton buds, cutlery, plates, straws, drink stirrers and sticks for balloons. These items will all have to be made exclusively from sustainable materials. Single-use beverage containers made with plastic will only be permitted on the market if their caps and lids remain attached. Single-use plastic products that have affordable alternatives that are easily available will be totally banned while those plastic items without straightforward eco-friendly alternatives will witness a restriction to their use.
Design and labeling requirements, as well as waste management and clean up will become obligatory for producers. Apart from helping cover the costs of waste management and clean-up, they will have to invest in awareness raising measures for food containers, packets and wrappers (such as for crisps and sweets), drinks containers and cups, tobacco products with filters (such as cigarette butts), wet wipes, balloons, and lightweight plastic bags. The industry will, nonetheless, be given incentives to develop less polluting alternatives for the named products.
Implemented across Europe, these measures and bans should help the countries curb plastic waste in an impactful manner. First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, responsible for sustainable development explained that Europeans need to act together to solve the problem of single-use plastics that end up in the air, in the soil, in the oceans, and in the food we eat. Vice-President Jyrki Katainen, responsible for jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness, on his side added that these measures will help both consumers and businesses to shift towards sustainable alternatives. He underlined that that single-use plastics are neither a smart economic nor an environmental choice. This ban reflects an opportunity for Europe to lead by example and create sustainable products that the world will need for decades to come. At the same time, the countries will be encouraged to extract more economic value from limited resources.
If the measures will definitely impact certain businesses in a negative manner, it will nevertheless pave the way for the setting up of new businesses. It is expected that the plastic industry will thrive as measures for the collection of plastic bottles will be implemented, generating necessary volumes. Fresh opportunities for innovation, job creation and competitiveness will also be unlocked. At the same time, companies will systematically be given a competitive edge as they will have more incentives to develop sustainable solutions. The measures are contributing to Europe's transition towards a Circular Economy, in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the EU's climate commitments and industrial policy objectives.
A common set of rules for the whole EU market will serve as a springboard for European companies to develop economies of scale and become more competitive at international level. Re-use systems that will be set in place will ensure that there is a stable supply of materials. According to the new measures, the countries will have to collect 90% of single-use plastic drinks bottles by 2025. This can be done through deposit refund schemes, for example. 23 countries in Europe and the Pacific Islands have already set up plastic collections centres or rebate schemes to encourage consumers return items like plastic bottles.
Fishing gear accounts for 27% of all beach litter. To tackle this issue, the Commission should complete the existing policy framework with producer responsibility schemes for fishing gear containing plastic. The producers of plastic fishing gear will have to bear the costs of waste collection from port reception facilities and its transport and treatment. They will equally have to incur costs covering awareness-raising measures.
Many other countries are putting the spotlight on consumer choice by highlighting individual roles in combating plastic pollution. A recent report by the United Nations Environment Program and the World Resources Institute has revealed that 127 countries out of 192 countries surveyed are concretely progressing in the fight against single-use plastics. As a July 2018, 66% of the countries had already implemented some kind of policy to curb the use of plastic bags, for instance.
Germany, on its side, is becoming an example to the world by adopting measures aiming at tackling plastic litter at its very source. In other words, it is implementing measures to avoid unnecessary packaging, particularly in fruit and vegetable aisles. Many fruits and vegetables, such as bananas, do not need any packaging. Thus, the government is trying to reverse the trend of plastic use by asking that plastic packaging of such food items be replaced with an adhesive labels instead. To reduce the use of plastic drink containers, it is also exploring ways to improve the availability of drinkable tap water.
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