Sunday

18th Nov 2018

EU commission seeks to reduce use of plastic bags

  • Plastic bags take hundreds of years to degrade (Photo: United Nations Photo)

The European Commission Monday (4 November) tabled measures to reduce the use of thin plastic bags by 80 percent, with about 710,000 tonnes of them being thrown away each year.

Each EU citizen use almost 200 such bags - below 50 microns in thickness - yearly and, for the most part (89 percent of the time), throws them away after just one go.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The practice is causing "enormous environmental damage," said environment commissioner Janez Potocnik.

He said the bags are a symbol of our "throwaway" culture, as the bags take hundreds of years to degrade "yet we only use them for a few minutes."

The commissioner is proposing that member states either set national reduction targets, use a levy or ban such bags altogether.

He pointed to Ireland as a "good example." After the Irish authorities introduced a levy, plastic bag litter dropped by 95 percent.

Of the 28 member states just 12 have introduce legislative measures to reduce the use of plastic bags, with Finland and Denmark seeing lowest plastic bag use - an estimated four per year per person.

Poles, Portuguese and Slovaks use over a hundred times more - 466 - plastic bags each year than their Nordic counterparts.

Potocnik's proposal leaves it up to member states to decide how and to what extent they will tackle the problem, with no timetable set for the wished-for overall target of an 80 percent reduction.

"Member states shall take measures to achieve a reduction in the consumption of lightweight plastic carrier bags on their territory within two years of entry into force of this directive," says the draft wording of the law.

Environment groups say this is wrong.

"The commission avoids setting any target at EU level and rather passes the buck to national authorities to take action," said the European Environmental Bureau in a statement.

Green MEPs have promised to tackle the lack of national targets when the law passes through parliament.

"While member states should be able to choose how to reduce plastic bag use - whether through bans or levies - there should be obligatory reduction targets, otherwise only those member states that want to act will do so," said Danish Green Margrete Auken.

"The commission has missed an opportunity today but we will seek to ensure the Parliament redresses this," she added.

Plastic bags from China face EU tax

EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson is set to place tariffs on plastic bags from China and Thailand, following complaints from European industry.

EUobserved

UK silent on EU origins of plastic bags law

UK prime minister Theresa May is expected to announce that a ban on free plastic bags will extend to all shops. By doing so, the UK will fulfil a requirement of an EU directive.

EU to review animal welfare strategy

European Court of Auditors found there were "still some significant discrepancies between the animal welfare standards established in the EU legislation and the reality on the ground".

Analysis

Why Brazil's election matters to Brussels

Jair Bolsonaro could render the EU's climate action meaningless, if the newly elected leader of Latin America's biggest country follows through with plans to allow massive deforestation.

News in Brief

  1. US warns EU banks and firms against trading with Iran
  2. Merkel urged Romania not to move embassy to Jerusalem
  3. Protesters call for Czech leader to step down
  4. Former German chancellor labelled 'enemy' of Ukraine
  5. French lead opposition to Brexit deal on fisheries
  6. Private accounts of Danske Bank employees investigated
  7. UK's May defends Brexit deal to MPs, after ministers resign
  8. Brexit MP calls for 'no confidence' vote on May

Opinion

Crunch time to end overfishing in the EU

What happens when a difficult deadline hits? This is precisely what is being played out in EU fisheries as we approach the landmark legal commitment under the Common Fisheries Policy to end overfishing by 2020.

Opinion

No chance of meeting EU renewable goals if infrastructure neglected

Following the 2030 renewable target of 32 percent, chair of the European Parliament's environment committee Adina Valean argues in order to reach our climate and energy goals, we need both public and private investment over the next decade and beyond.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Latest News

  1. Brexit dominates EU affairs This WEEK
  2. How the EU commission got tunnel vision on self-driving cars
  3. No-confidence calls against May put Brexit deal in doubt
  4. Key points of the Brexit deal (if it ever comes into effect)
  5. Romania heaps scorn on 'revolting' EU criticism
  6. US steps in to clean up Cyprus
  7. 'Decisive progress' on Brexit as British cabinet backs deal
  8. Asylum for Macedonia's ex-PM puts Orban on spot

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us