New proposals to reduce plastic bag use


We all use plastic bags. In fact, Europeans get through almost 100 billion of them every year – with 8 billion ending up as litter. To tackle the environmental impact, the European Commission has proposed changes to EU regulation on waste.

Plastic bags are light, strong and durable – that is why we use them. But this is also why they can last for potentially hundreds of years in the environment and accumulate, at sea for example, in ways that harm wildlife.

“Every year, more than 8 billion plastic bags end up as litter in Europe, causing enormous environmental damage,” said Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik at the proposals’ launch in November 2013. Some Member States have already achieved great results in reducing their use of plastic bags, he emphasised: “If others followed suit we could reduce today’s overall consumption in the European Union by as much as 80 %.”

Two key measures

"Every year, more than 8 billion plastic bags end up as litter in Europe, causing enormous environmental damage."

The European Commission has therefore proposed two basic measures: Firstly, an amendment of the EU ‘Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive’ would require Member States to take measures to reduce consumption of lightweight plastic bags – thinner than 0.05 mm – as these are the least frequently re-used.

Secondly, the range of measures would be broadened to include taxes and levies – which have already proved to be very effective in some Member States – as well as national reduction targets and, in some cases, bans (as long as these do not break EU internal market rules).

Around 90 % of the 100 billion plastic bags sold in the EU every year are lightweight ones, so the proposals could make a real difference. And the need is urgent: in the North Sea the stomachs of over 90 % of dead birds of some species contain pieces of plastic, while plastic bags account for more than 70 % of the plastic waste collected by trawlers along the Tuscany coast.