Saturday

25th Mar 2017

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.

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.

Doubts over EU chemical agency after weedkiller study

Green MEPs and health pressure groups said the European Chemicals Agency could be suffering from conflicts of interest, after it said there wasn't enough evidence to prove that the world's most widely used weedkiller causes cancer.

Column / Crude World

Nord Stream 2: The elephant in the room

The European Commission should provide a thorough impact assessment of Nord Stream 2, a project that appears to go against all of its Energy Union objectives.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Gaming & Betting Association60 Years Rome Treaty – 60 Years Building an Internal Market
  2. Malta EU 2017New EU Rules to Prevent Terrorism and Give More Rights to Victims Approved
  3. European Jewish Congress"Extremists Still Have Ability and Motivation to Murder in Europe" Says EJC President
  4. European Gaming & Betting AssociationAudiovisual Media Services Directive to Exclude Minors from Gambling Ads
  5. ILGA-EuropeTime for a Reality Check on International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
  6. UNICEFHuman Cost to Refugee and Migrant Children Mounts Up One Year After EU-Turkey Deal
  7. Malta EU 2017Council Adopts New Rules to Improve Safety of Medical Devices
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Research: How to Reach 100 Percent Renewable Energy
  9. Party of European SocialistsWe Must Renew Europe for All Europeans
  10. MEP Tomáš ZdechovskýThe European Commission Has Failed in Its Fight Against Food Waste
  11. ILGA-EuropeEP Recognises Discrimination Faced by Trans & Intersex People
  12. Nordic Council of Ministers25 Nordic Bioeconomy Cases for Sustainable Change