The European Commission is proposing a ban on around 10 single-use plastic items that it says account for approximately 70 per cent of all garbage in the European Union’s waters and beaches, including cutlery, straws, cotton buds, plates, some coffee cups, and stirrers, CNN Money reported on Monday.
Image: Plastic products at a French restaurant in 2016.
According to CNN’s report, it’s part of a broader plan to shift the European economy away from single-use products that end up going straight into the rubbish or the street:
The legislation is not just about banning plastic products. It also wants to make plastic producers bear the cost of waste management and cleanup efforts, and it proposes that EU states must collect 90% of single-use plastic bottles by 2025 through new recycling programs.
The European Commission estimates that these rules, once fully implemented in 2030, could cost businesses over €3 billion (£2.6 billion) per year. But they could also save consumers about €6.5 billion (£5.6 billion) per year, create 30,000 jobs, and avoid €22 billion (£19.2 billion) in environmental damage and cleanup costs.
CNN noted that the plastic reuse rate is frankly embarrassing compared to other products: While just 14 per cent of all plastic used globally is collected for recycling, the rate for paper is 58 per cent and the rate for iron and steel is around 90 per cent. Scientists have concluded that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area of the ocean where huge amounts of discarded plastic items eventually end up, has now grown to at least 87,000 tons of marine wildlife-killing waste.
The ban doesn’t mean that consumers in the EU will suddenly be unable to get these items; instead, products like plastic forks and knives with “readily available alternatives” would be replaced with products made from more environmentally friendly materials like bioplastics, per CNBC. The UK, which is (maybe) scheduled to leave the EU around the time the plan could reasonably be given the green light in May 2019, is already considering similar rules.
“Europeans need to act together to tackle this problem,” EU vice president Frans Timmermans said, per the Independent. “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.”
Plastic industry group Plastics Europe told CNN that they support the objective in theory, but their position is that bans are “not the solution” and “alternative products may not be more sustainable.”
In North America, the movement against cheap, disposable plastic items has not yet found anywhere near the same level of success. California voters enacted a first-of-its-kind ban on plastic bags in 2016, resulting in a precipitous drop of 72 per cent in the amount of such waste found by litter collectors by the next year, and a number of other cities and localities have done the same. But a number of other states have resorted to reactionary tactics favoured by manufacturers and restaurant industry groups, making it illegal for local governments to do so.