The European Parliament this week passed a law banning single-use plastics—such as straws, cotton buds, balloons and many sorts of beverage containers—by 2021, and obliged plastic bottle manufacturers to recycle 90 percent of their products by 2025.
“The amount of plastic marine litter in oceans and seas is growing, to the detriment of ecosystems, biodiversity and potentially human health, and causes widespread concern,” the law says in its preamble.
“At the same time, valuable material that could be brought back into the economy is lost, once littered. Plastic makes up 80-85% of the total number of marine litter items, measured through beach counts.
“Single Use Plastic (SUP) items represent about half of all marine litter items found on European beaches by counts. The 10 most found SUP items represent 86% of all SUP items (constituting thus 43% of all marine litter items found on European beaches by count).
“Fishing gear containing plastics accounts for another 27% of marine litter items found on European beaches. This initiative focuses therefore on the 10 most found SUP and fishing gear, which together represent around 70% of these marine litter items by count.”
“Due to its persistency, the impacts of plastic litter are growing as each year more plastic waste accumulates in the oceans. Plastic residues are now found in many marine species – sea turtles, seals, whales, birds as well as in several species of fish and shell fish and therefore enter the food chain.
“In addition to harming the environment and potentially human health, plastic marine litter damages activities such as tourism, fisheries and shipping,” the law adds.
Items identified as dangerous include food containers, beverage cups, beverage containers, caps and lids, beverage bottles, cotton bud sticks, cutlery, plates, stirrers, straws, sticks for balloons, balloons, packets and wrappers, tobacco product filters, sanitary wet wipes, sanitary towers, lightweight plastic carrier bags and fishing gear.
An impact assessment conducted on behalf of the EU found three categories of items:
– Items for which there are available sustainable alternatives, the objective is to promote less harmful alternatives.
– Items for which the alternatives do not exist. For these items, the objective is to limit damages by better informing the consumers and making the producers financially responsible of the consequences on the environment.
– Items which are already well captured where the objective is to make sure that they land in the existing (or forthcoming) separate collection and recycling circuit.
Currently, Europe recycles only a quarter of the 25 million tons of plastics waste it produces per year. Waste from cigarette butts, which can take over a decade to degrade in water, would also have to be cut by 50 percent in 2025 and by 80 percent in 2030.
The EU rules still need to be approved in talks with member states.