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Biodiversity & Environment

European Parliament Bans Single-Use Plastics

  • 28 Mar 2019
  • 5 min read

The European Union Parliament has voted to ban single-use plastic cutlery, cotton buds, straws and stirrers as part of a sweeping law against plastic waste that despoils beaches and pollutes oceans.

  • The directive will now pass through formalities before it is published in the EU rulebook. After that, EU member states will have two years to implement the directive, i.e. the ban will come into force by 2021 in all EU member states.
    • The United Kingdom too will have to follow the rules if it took part in and extended the Brexit transition period.
  • By 2025, plastic bottles should be made of 25% recycled content, and by 2029, 90% of them should be recycled.
  • The ban targets the top 10 disposable plastic products including plates, balloon sticks, food and beverage containers made of expanded polystyrene and all products made of oxo-degradable plastic.
  • Tobacco companies will be required to cover the costs for public collection of cigarette stubs, which are the second most littered single-use plastic item.
  • Apart from the ban, the EU will also encourage member states to reduce the use of plastic packaging and introduce stricter labelling rules.

Single-Use Plastics

  • Single-use plastics, or disposable plastics, are used only once before they are thrown away or recycled.
  • These items are things like plastic bags, straws, coffee stirrers, soda and water bottles and most food packaging.
    • The single-use plastic products also prevent the spread of infection. Instruments such as syringes, applicators, drug tests, bandages and wraps are often made to be disposable.
    • Also, single-use plastic products have been enlisted in the fight against food waste, keeping food and water fresher for longer and reducing the potential for contamination.
  • However, there can be challenges when it comes to disposing of some single-use products.
    • Petroleum based plastic is not biodegradable and usually goes into a landfill where it is buried or it gets into the water and finds its way into the ocean.
    • In the process of breaking down, it releases toxic chemicals (additives that were used to shape and harden the plastic) which make their way into our food and water supply.
  • The ultimate goal is that all these products can be collected and converted into energy or recycled.

Background

  • Europe is not the worst source of plastic pollution, but this measure could serve as an example to the world, i.e EU’s change of the economic model has a global impact
  • Other reasons which prompted the EU to ban single use plastics are:
    • EU recycles only 25% of the 25 million tonnes of plastics waste it produces every year.
    • Growing concerns about plastic pollution in oceans and stories of dead whales with plastic in their stomachs. Marine litter has come under the spotlight because 85% of it is plastic. E.g.: Great Pacific Grabage Patch
    • China's decision to stop processing waste have prompted the bloc to take more drastic steps to tackle the issue.

European Parliament

  • The European Parliament is the only parliamentary institution of the European Union (EU) that is directly elected by EU citizens aged 18 or older every five years since 1979.
  • It has 751 Members of elected directly from the 28 Member States of EU.

Way Forward

  • Although a welcome step, specially when environment has taken backstage with respect to economic growth globally. Without a proper waste management infrastructure and sufficient recycling facilities, it is difficult to achieve a circular economy or the objectives of this directive.
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