Under the proposals, single-use plastic items such as plates, cutlery or cotton buds, said to make up over 70% of marine litter, will be banned from Europe from 2021.
The new rules to curb litter from the most commonly found single-use plastics on Europe’s beaches were adopted in a vote by the European Parliament’s environment committee on Wednesday.
MEPs voted to specifically address the 10 single-use plastics that are most often found washed up on beaches or still in the sea, as well as lost and abandoned fishing gear.
As part of the draft rules, some single-use plastic products are to be banned where alternatives are readily available and affordable. MEPs added very lightweight plastic bags, products made of oxo-degradable plastics and fast-food containers made of expanded polystyrene to the list.
The consumption of several other items, for which no alternative exists, will have to be reduced by member states in an “ambitious and sustained” manner by 2025. Other plastics, such as beverage bottles, will have to be collected separately and recycled at a rate of 90% by 2025.
MEPs also agreed that reduction measures should cover waste from tobacco products too, in particular cigarette filters containing plastic which will have to be reduced by 50% by 2025 and 80% by 2030.
It is claimed that one cigarette butt can pollute between 500 and 1,000 litres of water, can take up to 12 years to disintegrate. They are the second most littered single-use plastic items.
“Europe is only responsible for a small part of the plastic polluting our oceans. It can and should, however, be a key player in finding a solution, leading at a global level, as it has done in the past in the fight against climate change" Frédérique Ries MEP
Member states should also ensure that at least 50% of lost or abandoned fishing gear containing plastic is collected per year, with a recycling target of at least 15% by 2025. Fishing gear represents 27% of waste found on Europe’s beaches.
The report, drafted by Belgian Alde group member Frédérique Ries, was adopted with 51 votes to 10. Reaction to the outcome of the vote was swift with Ries saying: “Europe is only responsible for a small part of the plastic polluting our oceans.
“It can and should, however, be a key player in finding a solution, leading at a global level, as it has done in the past in the fight against climate change. Prohibit, reduce, tax, but also replace, warn; the member states have many options to choose from. It is up to them to choose wisely and up to us to keep pushing for more. “
Also speaking after the vote Flemish ECR group MEP Mark Demesmaeker, who has closely followed the issue, said, "Plastic is an important and valuable material which has a useful place in our society and economy.
"The way in which plastics are produced and used today is both unaffordable and unsustainable. Plastic is developed to last in perpetuity, but is often still designed to be disposed of after use" Mark Demesmaeker MEP
“However, the way in which plastics are produced and used today is both unaffordable and unsustainable. Plastic is developed to last in perpetuity, but is often still designed to be disposed of after use.
"Moreover, a significant amount of single-use plastic products ends up in our seas and oceans, leading to a plastic soup.
“If we do not take action, there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans by 2050. We need to manage plastics in a responsible way throughout the entire value chain.
"The measures voted today support the transition towards a circular economy and will allow business and consumers to work towards sustainable alternatives. However, I believe that a general strategy on single-use products, regardless of the material out of which they are produced, is a necessary next step."
German EPP member Karl-Heinz Florenz, his group’s spokesman on the issue, said, “Plastic litter is eating up our seas and beaches. If we do not act now, we might not have anything to act on soon.
“There is a broad consensus within the European Parliament on discontinuing items such as cotton buds and straws, especially when there are good alternatives. However, the EPP does not want to go to extremes, like the Left, by proposing a ban on chewing gum.
"Replacing all disposable plastic with innovative alternatives and reusable products would not just be good for the planet but it would also be an economic opportunity. I see an added value in this.
“By taking the lead, being more revolutionary, we can create new jobs; there are studies showing that as much as 30,000 new local jobs could be created by doing so".
The Ries report will now be put to a vote by the full plenary during its 22-25 October plenary session in Strasbourg.