The European Parliament has voted for an extensive ban on single-use plastics to stop pollution entering the world’s oceans. Products including plastic plates, cutlery, straws and cotton buds will all be eradicated from 2021 under the plans.
The ban is intended to affect items for which valid alternatives are available, which are estimated to make up over 70 percent of marine litter.
In a far-reaching set of proposals, EU lawmakers also set out plans to make companies more accountable for their plastic waste. The regulations will now have to be approved in talks with member states, some of which are likely to push back against the strict new rules.
The plan was initially proposed in May after a wave of public opposition to single-use plastic swept across the continent.
Fragments of plastic have been found everywhere from Arctic sea ice to fertilisers being applied to farmland.
Animals as small as plankton and as large as whales are known to eat plastic, and as tiny shards enter the human food chain they seem to be ending up inside humans as well.
While much still remains unknown about the impact plastic is having on the environment and human health, environmentalists have called for urgent measures from industry and governments to curb the flow of plastic.
“We have adopted the most ambitious legislation against single-use plastics. It is up to us now to stay the course in the upcoming negotiations with the council, due to start as early as November,” said Belgian liberal Frederique Ries, who was responsible for the bill.
Under the new rules, member states would have to ensure that tobacco companies cover the cost of cigarette butt collection and processing in a bid to reduce the number entering the environment by 80 percent in the next 12 years.
Similar measures would apply to producers of fishing gear, who would have to help ensure at least 50 percent of lost or abandoned fishing gear containing plastic is collected per year. Fishing gear accounts for over a quarter of waste found on Europe’s beaches, and “ghost fishing” is thought to be responsible for thousands of whales, seals and birds dying every year.
EU states would also be obliged to recycle 90 percent of plastic bottles by 2025, and producers would have to help cover costs of waste management.
Environmental groups have criticised companies like Coca Cola, Pepsi and Nestle, which collectively are responsible for a vast proportion of plastic waste, for not doing enough to tackle pollution.
Other plans set out by MEPs included an intention to reduce consumption of other plastic items for which there are no viable alternatives by at last a quarter by 2025. These include various food containers and fast food cartons.
The parliament backed the range of proposals with a 571-53 majority. “Today’s vote paves the way to a forthcoming and ambitious directive,” said Ms Ries. “It is essential in order to protect the marine environment and reduce the costs of environmental damage attributed to plastic pollution in Europe, estimated at €22bn (£19bn) by 2030.”
Many European nations have already proposed their own measures to cut back on single-use plastics. On Monday the UK government announced plans to ban plastic straws, drink stirrers and cotton buds in a bid to “turn the tide on plastic pollution”.
By Josh Gabbatiss, Science Correspondent, Independent
October 24, 2018