Brussels — The European Union is proposing a ban on many single-use plastics, with a goal to clean up the litter found on Europe's beaches and seas.
The ban would cover plastic straws, cotton earbuds, cutlery, balloon sticks and drink stirrers. The proposal also has aggressive goals for managing other single-use plastics.
The European Commission's proposal was presented at a May 28 news conference in Brussels by Frans Timmermans and Jyrki Katainen, two EC vice presidents.
The commission targeted 10 of the most commonly found single-use plastic products as well as lost and abandoned fishing gear.
“We have put together a directive, which will cover 70 percent of the litter found on European beaches,” Timmermans said.
Single-use plastic products for which alternatives are readily available will be banned outright.
“These products are: plastic cotton buds, cutlery, plates, straws, drink stirrers and sticks for balloons,” Timmermans said. “Let me be very clear. These products won't disappear; they'll just be made with different materials.”
The use of products for which no straightforward alternatives have yet been developed will be curbed, with member states being required to achieve a “significant reduction.” For example, states would be required to collect 90 percent of single-use plastic drink bottles by 2025.
Additionally, the proposal includes design and labeling requirements and waste management and clean-up obligations for producers.
According to Katainen, the proposal is an opportunity for Europe to lead the way, creating products that the world will demand for decades to come, and extracting more economic value from precious and limited resources.
“Our collection target for plastic bottles will also help to generate the necessary volumes for a thriving plastic recycling industry,” he said.
The new rules will introduce:
- A ban on plastic cotton buds, cutlery, plates, straws, drink stirrers and sticks for balloons. Single-use drinks containers made with plastic will only be allowed on the market if their caps and lids remain attached;
- Consumption reduction targets: Member States must reduce the use of plastic food containers and drinks cup;
- Obligations for producers: Producers will help cover the costs of waste management and clean-up, as well as awareness raising measures for food containers, packets and wrappers (such as for crisps and sweets), drinks containers and cups, tobacco products with filters (such as cigarette butts), wet wipes, balloons, and lightweight plastic bags. The industry will also be given incentives to develop less polluting alternatives for these products;
- Collection targets: Member states will be obliged to collect 90 percent of single-use plastic drinks bottles by 2025, potentially through deposit refund schemes;
- Labeling Requirements: Certain products will require a clear and standardized labeling which indicates how waste should be disposed, the negative environmental impact of the product, and the presence of plastics in the products. This will apply to sanitary towels, wet wipes and balloons;
- Awareness-raising measures: Member states will be obliged to raise consumers' awareness about the negative impact of littering of single-use plastics and fishing gear as well as about the available re-use systems and waste management options for all these products.
- For fishing gear, the commission aims to complete the existing policy framework with producer responsibility schemes for fishing gear containing plastic. Producers of plastic fishing gear, which accounts for 27 percent of all beach litter, will be required to cover the costs of waste collection from port reception facilities and its transport and treatment. They will also cover the costs of awareness-raising measures.
The commission's proposals will now go to the European Parliament and council for adoption. The commission urges the other institutions to treat this as a priority.
“It's a race to the top,” Timmermans said, “and a chance for Europe to show leadership” -- and to deliver tangible results for Europeans before the elections in May 2019.