By Shawna Healey
The European Parliament in Strasbourg, France has voted for a wide-ranging ban on single use plastics to counter pollution.
The ambitious proposal will see plastic cutlery, straws and cotton buds phased out across Europe in a bid to stop pollution from entering the world’s oceans. The aim is for these products to be eradicated by 2021, and EU states are obliged to recycle at least 90% of plastic bottles by 2025.
Research gathered by the EU shows that 150,000 tonnes of plastic are tossed into European waters every year, and it is estimated that globally, 8 million tonnes of plastic are entering our oceans annually, with these plastics travelling great distances.
Plastic has a huge impact on marine life. Fish and large aquatic animals can be suffocated by pollution, while whales have been observed consuming plastic bags. When plastic debris breaks down, it doesn’t decompose like other, natural substances do. Instead, it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, termed “microplastic”. These tiny fragments often end up being ingested by fish, and can then be passed onto humans. Large volumes of plastic waste also washes up onto beaches, where sea birds and other animals eat it and are subsequently killed.
The ban is intended to affect items for which alternatives are available, which are estimated to make up over 70% of marine pollution and 49% of beach litter.
Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) agreed that reductive measures should also cover waste from tobacco products, in particular cigarette filters containing plastic, which are the second most littered single use plastic items. Usage is aimed to be reduced by 50% by 2025 and 80% by 2030. One cigarette butt can pollute between 500 and 1000 litres of water, and can take up to twelve years to disintegrate.
EU lawmakers also set out plans to make companies more accountable for their plastic waste. The plans were originally proposed in May after a public outcry. MEP Fredrique Ries, who proposed the bill, tweeted that it “was a victory for our oceans, for the environment and for future generations”.
Despite the proposition of the bill by the European Commission being supported overall, with a vote of 571 votes for, 53 against and 34 abstentions, it still needs to be approved by member states after negations, which Ries is optimistic will be successful. The negotiations are set to start as early as November.
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