Straws and other plastics set for ban

European politicians could soon agree to ban single-use plastic items including straws, plates, cutlery and cotton buds in an attempt to reduce the reams of man-made waste clogging up the environment.


The European Parliament voted in favour of such a ban on 24 October. It would come into force from 2021, but must first be agreed by the national governments of EU countries in the Council of the EU, who might want to change some of the specifics. A failure to reach agreement could even scupper the plans altogether.

“We have adopted the most ambitious legislation against single-use plastics,” said Frédérique Ries, the MEP who led the initiative for the Parliament. “It is up to us now to stay the course in the upcoming negotiations with the Council, due to start as early as November.”

MEPs agreed their position by 571 votes to 53. They say the products they want to ban make up 70% of marine litter.

Not all single-use plastic items can be replaced by other products, however. For these products, which include single-use burger boxes, sandwich boxes and food containers, MEPs want EU countries to agree targets to reduce consumption by at least 25% by 2025. Governments should encourage more use of multiple-use products, MEPs say.

Drinks bottles would have to be recycled at a rate of 90% by 2025 under the MEPs’ plans. Plastic waste from tobacco products, in particular cigarette filters, would have to be reduced by 50% by 2025 and 80% by 2030.

Ries said the plans are “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 euros by 2030”.

The move follows the recent preliminary presentation of research which found plastic remnants in the excrement of human volunteers. Plastic was found in samples provided by each of the eight people who took part in the study, who were based as far apart as the UK, Austria, Russia and Japan. The plastic is thought to have entered the volunteers’ guts through their diets.

Between 3 and 7 different kinds of plastic were found in each stool sample, according to researcher Philipp Schwabl’s presentation. Each 10 grams of the samples contained on average 20 microplastic particles, with a range from 18 to 172 particles. Larger studies are now needed to get more reliable data on exactly how bad the problem is.

Words: Craig Nicholson
Photo: Graham Horn

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