Plastic waste rules look to reduce 'negative impact' on environment

Promotion of bio-based products are key to reducing plastic bag consumption on a global scale, argues Fabrizio Bertot.

By Fabrizio Bertot MEP

11 Mar 2014

The European commission proposal aims to modify the directive on packaging and packaging waste to reduce the consumption of lightweight plastic carrier bags. It focuses on the products with a wall thickness of between 11 and 50 microns (0.05mm) which represents the most common and best-known type of carrier bag.

"According to data collected in 2010, every EU citizen uses and throws away 198 plastic bags annually"

According to data collected in 2010, every EU citizen uses and throws away 198 plastic bags annually, 90 per cent of which have a wall thickness of less than 50 microns. Furthermore, in 2010, the pollution rate increased as a consequence of the dissemination of more than 10 billion plastic bags, having a seriously negative effect on the environment, particularly for Europe’s seas.

The commission’s main goal is to achieve a reduction in the negative impact this has on the environment. It looks to reduce consumption and use of such plastic bags by encouraging responsible behaviour by end-users by ultimately preventing any plastic bag waste. Also, this should enable the better deployment of resources. The draft opinion conforms with the commission’s industrial policy communication update, entitled ‘a stronger European industry for growth and economic recovery’, as well as to member states’ efforts for reactivating the competitiveness of European industrial production. The most important amendments I have put forward to the draft opinion concern the promotion of bio-based products which comply with the 2002 proof of compostability standard.

Moreover, up until 2020 the volume growth of EU bio-based chemical products, including bio-plastics, bio-lubricants, bio-solvents and chemical feedstock, is estimated at 5.3 per cent. That should lead to a remarkable improvement through generating a market worth €40bn, providing more than 90,000 jobs with considerable spin-off effects.

Through the proposal, member states are urged to undertake the necessary actions to achieve two goals. Firstly, within two years a considerable reduction is expected in the sale of plastic bags of between 11 and 49 microns thick, which are mostly used to carry products home from the supermarket. And secondly, within three years the aim is a reduction of the equally important ‘very lightweight’ bags, which have a wall thickness of between one and 10 microns and are used mainly for loose fruit and vegetables in the supermarkets.

The reduction in the use of such bags should be phased in at a speed that allows the market to find viable bio-based and compostable alternatives. The industrial food sector shall have the necessary time to find new solutions for the packaging of products because we aim to prevent food products from being over-packed at source, and by meeting all the hygiene requirements for the sale of loose food products. The so called lightweight plastic carrier bags are supposed to be completely, albeit gradually replaced by new packaging techniques which could include recycling paper as well as bio-based and compostable alternatives.

Regarding ultra-lightweight plastic carrier bags, since they are used to wrap humid, loose, unpackaged foods such as raw meat, fish and dairy due to food hygiene rules, should be exempt from the reduction target of this directive.

Moreover lightweight plastic bags that conform to the compostability standard and can be reused as containers for organic waste in accordance with European directive on waste are excluded from this directive.