European Union legislators have overwhelmingly approved a ban on single-use plastic items – including straws, forks, knives and cotton buds – to counter pollution amid efforts to push manufacturers to step up their recycling efforts.
The measure, which passed on Wednesday and will take effect in 2021, targets the top 10 disposable plastic products that wash up on European shores, provided that consumers have alternatives.
They include plates, balloon sticks, food and beverage containers made of expanded polystyrene and all products made of oxo-degradable plastic.
EU countries can choose their own methods of reducing the use of other single-use plastics such as takeout containers and cups for beverages. They will also have to collect and recycle at least 90 percent of beverage bottles by 2029.
Tobacco companies will be required to cover the costs for public collection of cigarette stubs, which are the second most littered single-use plastic item.
The ban was approved at the European Parliament on Wednesday, with
“Today, we have taken an important step to reduce littering and plastic pollution in our oceans and seas,” European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said on Wednesday, after 560 legislators voted in favour, 35 against and 28 abstained.
“We got this, we can do this. Europe is setting new and ambitious standards, paving the way for the rest of the world,” Timmermans added.
The EU recycles only a quarter of the 25 million tonnes of plastics waste it produces every year.
Marine litter has come under the spotlight because 85 percent of it is plastic. Growing concerns about plastic pollution in oceans and stories of dead whales with plastic in their stomachs, together with China‘s decision to stop processing waste have prompted the bloc to take more drastic steps to tackle the issue.
Lobbying group EuroCommerce, whose members include Tesco, Lidl, Carrefour, and Metro, said governments also need to do their part to help make recycling a success.
“Without a proper waste management infrastructure and sufficient recycling facilities we will not achieve a circular economy or the objectives of this directive,” EuroCommerce Director-General Christian Verschueren said.
Environmentalist group Greenpeace welcomed the ban but criticised the lack of targets for EU countries to follow on some plastics.