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Environment

Plastic bags

The Plastic Bags Directive

The Plastic Bags Directive (Directive (EU) 2015/720) is an amendment to the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (94/62/EC) and was adopted to deal with the unsustainable consumption and use of lightweight plastic carrier bags (i.e. plastic carrier bags with a wall thickness below 50 microns), which are one of the top ten littered items in Europe. Lightweight plastic carrier bags are often used only once, but– they take centuries to fully degrade in the natural environment. Before this happens, they often get ingested by terrestrial or marine animals, or break up into microplastics. Either way, they end up in the human and animal food chain.

The Directive requires Member States to take measures, such as national reduction targets and/or economic instruments (e.g. fees, taxes) and marketing restrictions (bans), provided that the latter are proportionate and non-discriminatory. The measures taken by Member States include either or both of the following:

  • the adoption of measures ensuring that the annual consumption level does not exceed 90 lightweight plastic carrier bags per person by 31 December 2019 and 40 lightweight plastic carrier bags per person by 31 December 2025, or an equivalent targets set in weight and/or
  • the adoption of instruments ensuring that, by 31 December 2018, lightweight plastic carrier bags are not provided free of charge at the point of sale of goods or products, unless equally effective instruments are implemented.

Very lightweight plastic carrier bags (plastic carrier bags with a wall thickness below 15 microns which are required for hygiene purposes or provided as primary packaging for loose food when this helps to prevent food wastages) may be excluded from these objectives, but Member States are required to report on their consumption.

Member States are not allowed to adopt marketing restrictions (bans) for plastic carrier bags with a wall thickness above 50 microns (i.e. reusable bags), but are free to adopt other measures to reduce their consumption, such as economic instruments or other national reduction measures. They are not obliged (but are strongly recommended) to report to the Commission on their consumption.

Member States reporting and the upcoming Commission report

By June 2020, Member States had to report for the first time data on the annual consumption of lightweight and very lightweight plastic carrier bags. This reporting concerned year 2018 (starting from May - December 2018).

The reports were sent to the Eurostat – the Directorate General of the Commission responsible for statistical information. In order to guide the Member States in their reporting obligations, Eurostat issued lightweight plastic carrier bags specific Guidelines for reporting.

By the end of 2021, the Commission will present a report to the European Parliament and to the Council assessing the effectiveness of the measures taken by Member States in combating littering, changing consumer behaviour and promoting waste prevention.

In this assessment, the Commission will take account also of the implementing measures taken by Member States under the Single-Use Plastics Directive (SUP Directive).

Lightweight Plastic Carrier Bags and the Single-Use Plastics Directive

Based on the 2018 Commission Impact Assessment supporting the Commission’s legislative proposal for the adoption of the SUP Directive, lightweight plastic carrier bags were identified as one of the 10 most littered items on the EU beaches. The top 10 most commonly found SUP items made up 86% of all single-use plastics in beach litter and were responsible for more than half of the plastic marine litter. With regards to the very lightweight plastic carrier bags, the SUP Directive requires that their producers cover the cost as required under to the extended producer responsibility obligation as specified in Directives 2008/98/EC and 94/62/EC and, insofar as not already included, also the cost of

  • awareness raising measures;
  • waste collection for lightweight plastic carrier bags that are discarded in public collection systems, including the infrastructure and its operation, and the subsequent transport and treatment of that waste; and
  • the costs of cleaning up litter resulting from those bags and the subsequent transport and treatment.

With regards to the lightweight plastic carrier bags, the SUP Directive requires also that Member States take measures to inform consumers and incentivise their responsible behaviour to reduce litter. For this purpose, Member States must ensure that consumers are informed about:

  • availability of reusable alternatives, re-use systems and waste management options as well as best practices in sound waste management;
  • the impacts of littering and other inappropriate waste disposal behaviours, in particular on the marine environment; and
  • the impact of inappropriate means of waste disposal on the sewer network.