Wednesday

27th Oct 2021

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

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe 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.

Kerry resets climate relations before Glasgow summit

John Kerry, the US special presidential envoy, was in Brussels to discuss how to tackle climate change with the European Commission. His appearance also marked a major shift in relations after the previous US administration under Donald Trump.

Commission: Pioneering Nordics' energy mix 'example' to EU

The Nordic electricity market is an example of successful market integration plus climate action, as the share of sustainable energy keeps growing, the European Commission said. However, the decarbonisation of the transport sector remains a challenge.

Investigation

How Energy Treaty 'shadow' courts prolong EU's fossil age

The treaty enables companies to claim billions in compensation from states in front of international arbitration tribunals, if they feel unfairly treated by the states' energy or climate policies.

Feature

Adriatic Sea 'risks turning into a water desert'

The Adriatic Sea risks turning into a water desert, experts warn. Overfishing, bottom trawling, pollution, and climate change are seriously threatening the biodiversity of the Adriatic.

EU faces long wait for full vaccine supplies

The EU is still several months away from having enough vaccines to inoculate its 450 million people, with Pfizer and BioNTech, its principle suppliers, aiming for September for delivery targets.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew report reveals bad environmental habits
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersImproving the integration of young refugees
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNATO Secretary General guest at the Session of the Nordic Council
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCan you love whoever you want in care homes?
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals

Latest News

  1. How to break the political deadlock on migration
  2. Hedegaard on the hazards of stalling climate action
  3. Belarus exiles in EU fear regime-linked murderers
  4. No place for Polish 'war' rhetoric, Commission says
  5. Nine countries oppose EU gas market reform
  6. EU-UK impasse on top court in post-Brexit customs talks
  7. Erdoğan orders out US and EU ambassadors
  8. EU banks play 'major role' in deforestation, report finds

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us