EU proposes banning plastic cotton buds, straws in bid to reduce marine litter

European Commission submits proposal to ban ten single-use plastic products and fishing gear

The EU is proposing to ban ten single-use plastic products and fishing gear, which account for 70% of all marine litter (Photo: David Melding)
The EU is proposing to ban ten single-use plastic products and fishing gear, which account for 70% of all marine litter (Photo: David Melding)

The European Commission, the only European Union institution which can propose legislation, is bringing forward new EU-wide rules banning ten single-use plastic products and fishing gear, which it says account for 70% of the marine litter in Europe.

The rules, which the Commission is asking to be treated as a priority for adoption by the European Parliament and Council, will ban plastic cotton buds, cutlery, plates, straws, drink stirrers and sticks for balloons, which will all have to be made exclusively from more sustainable material instead. Single-use drink containers made with plastic will only be allowed on the market if their caps and lids cannot come off.

Members States will also have to reduce the use of plastic food containers and drink cups, ideally through setting national reduction targets, making alternative products available for sale, or ensuring that single-use plastic products cannot be given out for free.

By 2025, all EU countries will have to collect 90% of single-use plastic drink bottles, through deposit refund schemes, something which is currently being planned in Malta.

Producers too will have to meet certain obligations, requiring them to cover the costs of waste management and clean-up, as well as contribute towards raising awareness on the disposal of food containers, packets and wrappers, drink containers and cups, and tobacco product remnants such as cigarette butts.

When it comes to fishing gear, which makes up 27% of all litter on beaches, the Commission aims to complete the existing policy framework, giving producers the responsibility of covering waste collection costs from port reception facilities, and the subsequent transport and treatment costs. They will also have to fund awareness-raising measures.

Measures will lower emissions, save consumers money

Across the world, plastics make up 85% of marine litter, which are even reaching people’s lungs and dinner tables, the Commission highlighted. Micro-plastics in the air, water and food have a currently unknown impact on our health, it said, emphasising that tackling the plastics problem is “a must”.

The new rules follow a similar approach to the successful 2015 Plastic Bags Directive, which was well-received and brought about a quick shift in consumer behaviour, it said.

They will bring about both environmental and economics benefits, including avoiding the emission of 3.4 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, avoiding environmental damages which would cost the equivalent of €22 billion by 2030, and save consumers a projected €6.5 billion.

Commission vice-President Frans Timmermans, responsible for sustainable development, said that ”This Commission promised to be big on the big issues, and leave the rest to Member States. 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."

"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," he added.

Check out this EU fact sheet on single-use plastics:

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