Janez Potocnik, Europe's commissioner for the environment, told the European Parliament April 15 that plastic shopping bags are a “highly visible environmental problem” and that their over-consumption and littering need to be addressed.
“Plastic carrier bags easily escape waste management schemes and accumulate in our environment, especially in the form of marine litter. For example, plastic bags accounted for 73 percent [of waste] along the Tuscany coast,” he told members of the European Parliament.
He said that the “huge and growing consumption rates of plastic bags – one hundred billion plastic bags are used in the European Union alone – also demonstrates a squandering of resources”. Plastic bags are a symbol of our throw-away society and unsustainable lifestyles, Potocnik added.
“We use them for a few minutes but their legacy last for hundreds of years.”
The European Parliament is to vote April 17 on a proposal calling for member states to reduce the use of shopping bags by 50 percent by 2017 and 80 percent by 2019.
Public opinion is strongly behind limiting their use but public behavior needs “a nudge”, Potocnik said. This is the clear lesson from member states, such as Ireland, which have shown that simple measures lead to big changes.
“The time has come for member states to take action across the European Union, building on the successful initiatives already in place.”
This is why environment ministers have called on the Commission to make plans and it is why in November last year it tabled a proposal, Potocnik explained. “It contains two main elements – first, it requires member states to adopt measure to reduce the consumption of lightweight plastic carrier bags. And second, the proposal provides member states with a range of instruments, such as charges.
“The parliament's draft proposals clearly show that we share the same objective – limiting the consumption and littering of plastic carrier bags.”