Monday

26th Sep 2016

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.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

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.

Investigation

VW: EU's action plan is 'nothing new'

Consumer affairs commissioner Jourova said Volkswagen has "committed to an EU-wide action plan", but the promise contains little news value according to the carmaker itself.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. GoogleBringing Education to Refugees in Lebanon With the Clooney Foundation for Justice
  2. HuaweiAn Industry-leading ICT Solution Provider and Building a Better World
  3. World VisionUN Refugees Meeting a Wasted Opportunity to Improve the Lives of Millions of Children
  4. Belgrade Security ForumCan Democracy Survive Global Disorder?
  5. YouthProAktivEntrepreneurship, Proactivity, Innovation - Turn Ideas Into Action #IPS2016
  6. GoogleTrimming the Waste-Line: Weaving Circular Economy Principles Into Our Operations
  7. Crowdsourcing Week EuropeDon't Miss the Mega Conference to Master Crowdsourcing, Crowdfunding and Innovation! 10% Discount Code CSWEU16
  8. Martens CentreFighting Terrorism: Do we have what it takes? 26 September, Brussels
  9. ACCAKaras Report on Access to Finance for SMEs in a Capital Markets Union
  10. Centre Maurits Coppieters"I still believe we can change Europe" Said David Grosclaude
  11. World VisionThe Child Protection Index to be Launched in Brussels on 28 September 2016
  12. HuaweiDigital Transformation: Unleashing Europe’s Potential