On 24 October, Members of the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of earlier proposals from the European Commission to cut plastics waste, targeting in particular single-use plastic litter polluting Europe's beaches and seas.
This important step towards tackling marine litter across the EU will be followed up by negotiations with the European Council, as soon as national ministers have established their position on the new Single Use Plastics Directive.
Today’s vote paves the way to a forthcoming and ambitious Directive. It is essential in order to protect the marine environment and reduce the costs of environmental damage attributed to plastic pollution in Europe, estimated at €22 billion by 2030.
Frédérique Ries, MEP (ALDE, BE), rapporteur
The European Commission’s proposed new EU-wide rules target the 10 single-use plastic products most often found on Europe's beaches and seas. Along with abandoned fishing gear, these products constitute 70 % of all marine litter items.
Plastic is slow to decompose, which is why it builds up and collects in seas, oceans and on beaches across Europe and worldwide. Plastic residues, including microplastics, are now being found in marine species – and subsequently in the human food chain. Plastics are a convenient, adaptable, useful and economically valuable material, but they need to be better used, reused and recycled.
The cost of plastics litter includes the lost economic value in the material, losses for tourism, fisheries and shipping, and the cost of the clean-up – not to mention the price paid by nature and the environment.
Focus on single use
On 28 May 2018, the European Commission proposed a comprehensive set of measures, in the form of the Single Use Plastics Directive, to help tackle plastics waste. The new rules are proportionate and tailored to get the best results, with different measures applied to different products.
The proposal focuses on the 10 single-use plastic items most commonly found on European beaches. These represent 86 % of all single-use plastic items on beaches, and about half of all plastic marine litter. The Directive includes a ban on plastic items such as straws, cotton swabs made from plastic, plastic plates and cutlery, plastic coffee stirrers and plastic balloon holders.
Other plastic items, such as beverage bottles, will have to be collected separately at a rate of 90% by 2025. According to the new legislation, Member States will have to significantly reduce the consumption of plastic food containers and cups used for beverages, according to a timeline of six years after the new rules have been transposed.
Extended producer responsibility is also in the spotlight. According to the proposals, the existing systems will have to help fund the clean-up of litter. For tobacco products with filters, wet wipes, balloons and fishing gear, new extended producer responsibility systems will have to be set up.
The proposed Single Use Plastics Directive delivers on the commitment made in the 2018 European Plastics Strategy to tackle wasteful and damaging plastic litter through legislative action – a move that has been welcomed by the European institutions and citizens alike.
The new measures proposed will contribute to Europe's transition towards a circular economy, and to reaching the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the EU's climate commitments and industrial policy objectives. The overall aim is to support safer and more sustainable consumption and production patterns for plastics.
All those in favour
The report, drafted by Frédérique Ries (ALDE, BE), was adopted with 571 votes to 53 and 34 abstentions.
Before the vote, MEPs added products made from oxo-degradable plastics and expanded polystyrene food and beverage containers to the list of plastics to be banned from the EU market from 2021.
In addition to the single-use plastic items to be banned, the European Parliament proposes that Member States will have to cut their use of several other items by at least 25 % by 2025. These products include single-use food containers such as burger boxes, sandwich boxes and one-person portion-sized food containers of fresh or processed food that does not need further preparation, such as fruits, vegetables, desserts or ice cream, sold in single units. EU countries will have to draft national plans to encourage the use of products suitable for multiple use (as well as reusing and recycling), and to reach the reduction target.
The European Council has supported the level of ambition within the Commission’s proposal. It has further clarified the new rules by including more specific product descriptions, setting out greater ambition (such as adding to the list of banned items some products made from expanded polystyrene), adding provisions to improve implementation, and taking measures to reduce administrative costs.
Frédérique Ries, the rapporteur for the new Directive, said: ‘We have adopted the most ambitious legislation against single-use plastics. It is up to us now to stay the course in the upcoming negotiations with the Council, due to start as early as November. Today’s vote paves the way to a forthcoming and ambitious Directive. It is essential in order to protect the marine environment and reduce the costs of environmental damage attributed to plastic pollution in Europe, estimated at EUR 22 billion by 2030.’
Negotiations have already started between the institutions in the form of political and technical meetings, and an agreement could be reached by the end of this year.