Plastic bags are useful in transporting food and keeping food products fresh. But they can persist in the environment for hundreds of years and plastic waste is widespread and accumulating. At EU level, we still consume around 200 plastic bags per inhabitant every year and 90% of these are single use bags. In 2010, more than 8 billion plastic bags ended up as litter in Europe.
The new ruels aim at claryfying ambiguous policies on the use of plastic bags across EU Member States. The overall goal is to reduce waste levels caused by plastic bags posing a threat to marine eco-systems and animals such as fish and birds.
Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik published a proposal providing guidelines and containing recommendations how to reduce the use of plastic bags, but no binding measures and no EU-wide ban. After the dossier was handed over to the European Parliament, MEPs added binding targets to the draft. At the plenary session in Strasbourg, MEPs voted to reduce plastic carrier bags by 50% until 2017 and by 80% until 2019 compared to 2010 figures. These reduction targets were kept in the final deal, but the deadlines were extended to 2019 and 2025. These rules only concern very thin lightweight plastic bags – the vast majority of plastic carrier bags used in the EU.
Accordingly, an average EU citizen's yearly consumption level shall not exceed 90 plastic bags by 31 December 2019 and 40 plastic carrier bags by 31 December 2025. The reduction in use will be reached by several measures - decided by the individual Member States - such as taxes, levies, marketing restrictions or bans to stop shops from giving out plastic bags for free. Plastic bags can then be replaced by carrier bags made of recycled paper or biodegradable and compostable bags.
On 21 November 2014 the Europen Parliament reached a deal with the Member States on the terms mentioned above. Both institutions formally confirmed the deal by votes in March and April 2015 before the new rules were published in the Official Journal in May 2015. By July 2016 the first Member States started to impose measures to reach the agreed targets: France simply banned plastic bags while Germany is trying to reduce them through a voluntary agreement between the government and the industry.
Circular Economy: Reducing waste in Europe
A New Waste Management System in the EU
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