With millions of tonnes of plastic washing into the oceans each year wreaking untold damage on the marine environment, the European Union is moving to put the brakes on the problem. Under proposed new rules that would apply to the entire bloc, it has taken aim at the plastic products most commonly found on its beaches and seas, which together account for 70 percent of the continent's marine litter.
The new regulations fit into the EU's wider Plastics Strategy, which was announced earlier in the year. Europe alone generates 25 million tonnes of plastic waste each year and recycles less than 30 percent of it. The plan aims to put a dent in the problem by eliminating the use of non-recyclable plastics by 2030, while also establishing a circular economy around the material to increase the demand for recycled alternatives.
"Plastic waste is undeniably a big issue and Europeans need to act together to tackle this problem, because plastic waste ends up in our air, our soil, our oceans, and in our food," said EU First Vice-President Frans Timmermans. "Today's proposals will reduce single use plastics on our supermarket shelves through a range of measures. We will ban some of these items, and substitute them with cleaner alternatives so people can still use their favourite products."
The new rules would apply to the whole EU, but be tailored to different plastic products for maximum impact. They call for the banning of single-use plastic products, such as straws, cutlery, cotton buds, stirrers, balloon sticks and drinks containers, where alternatives are available and affordable.
They will also encourage the reduction of plastic food containers and drink cups by setting national reduction targets, offering sustainable alternatives, or simply not offering them for free at the point of sale.
Further onus will also be placed on manufacturers, who will be made to contribute to the costs of plastic waste management and cleanup, along with a responsibility to raise awareness of the environmental impacts of their products. They will also receive incentives to develop cleaner alternatives.
Other measures include an obligation for EU countries to collect 90 percent of single-use plastic drink bottles by 2025 through approaches such as deposit refund schemes, along with clearly labeled instructions for the safe disposal of things like sanitary towels and wet wipes.
The proposal also includes a big push for smarter use of plastic fishing gear like nets, lines and traps. The EU says only 1.5 percent of this is recycled and it accounts for 27 percent of all beach litter. Under the new rules, fishers will have new tools and incentives to retrieve the waste, while producers of this gear will be made to pay for waste collection from port facilities and awareness-raising measures.
If these rules are implemented, the EU says they would negate the emission of 3.4 million tonnes of C02 equivalent, avoid €22 billion (US$25 billion) in environmental damages by 2030 and save consumers a projected €6.5 billion (US$7.5 billion). The proposal is now headed to the European Parliament and Council for consideration.