European Union government backs ban on single-use plastics

line of water bottles
Shutterstock John Dvorak

Members of the European Parliament last week voted overwhelmingly in favor of banning the most commonplace single-use plastic items by 2021, including plastic cutlery, straws, stirrers and balloon sticks.

MEPs in Strasbourg first indicated their support for a ban in December and voted 560 in favor to pass the final proposals from the European Commission last week. Just 35 MEPs voted against the measures.

The new rules will mean that from 2021, single-use plastic cutlery, cotton buds, straws, balloon sticks and stirrers, will be banned throughout the trading bloc. Member states also will face a 90 percent collection target for plastic bottles by 2029, and bottles also will need to be made from at least 30 percent recycled plastic by 2030.

"This legislation will reduce the environmental damage bill ($24.7 billion) — the estimated cost of plastic pollution in Europe until 2030," said lead MEP Frédérique Ries. "Europe now has a legislative model to defend and promote at international level, given the global nature of the issue of marine pollution involving plastics. This is essential for the planet."

The directive needs to be approved by the Council of Ministers before it enters EU law later this year. Member states will have two years to transfer the legislation into national law.

Only a quarter of the plastic waste generated each year in the EU is recycled, and more than 80 percent of marine litter is plastics. In response to a spike in public concern over marine plastic, many corporates have pledged to voluntarily curb their use of single-use plastic.

But in response to the news, EuroCommerce, an EU-wide industry groups which boasts IKEA, M&S, Lidl, Carrefour, Amazon and Tesco as members, said the ban also must come with consistent government investment in recycling infrastructure.

"We are as a sector already actively doing our bit in reducing plastic waste, but to do so effectively we need consistent implementation, and the engagement of the whole supply chain and public authorities to achieve real reductions in single-use plastic and marine litter," said EuroCommerce Director-General Christian Verschueren. "Without a proper waste management infrastructure and sufficient recycling facilities, we will not achieve a circular economy or the objectives of this directive."

In related news, Lucozade Ribena Sunstory (LRS), the firm behind drinks brands Ribena and Lucozade, announced plans to redesign its Ribena bottle to make it easier to recycle. LRS has promised to make all its packaging fully recyclable within the current U.K. recycling system, and therefore is changing the design of its bottle to cut the use of printed sleeves to leave more of the bottle transparent.

This means automated sorting machines in U.K. recycling centers will be better able to identify the packaging and ensure that each bottle has the best chance of being recycled back into plastic bottles, LRS explained.

"Lucozade Ribena Suntory takes its sustainability commitments very seriously and we are extremely proud to be announcing this packaging redesign to ensure our brands continue to be as sustainable as possible," said Michelle Norman, director of external affairs and sustainability at Lucozade Ribena Suntory. "While we continue to make positive changes to our brands it is important that wider changes are made by companies like us, government and industry to ensure recycling rates in the U.K. can continue to increase."

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