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Plastic Pollution Crisis: Single-Use Straws May Be Banned Across Europe

May 28, 2018, 11:08 AM UTC

The European Union’s executive branch has proposed an outright ban on a host of single-use plastic products, including straws and plates, in order to combat the growing plastic waste crisis.

With plastics making up the vast majority of trash in our oceans and contaminating our drinking water, the European Commission on Monday proposed a new directive to mitigate the problem. It would ban single-use plastic items in cases where there are readily available, cheap alternatives made from more sustainable materials.

The ban would take in plastic straws, plates, cutlery, cotton buds, drink stirrers and sticks for balloons—as well as single-use drinks containers, unless their caps and lids remain attached.

“Single use plastics are not a smart economic or environmental choice, and today’s proposals will help business and consumers to move towards sustainable alternatives,” said Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen. “This is an opportunity for Europe to lead the way, creating products that the world will demand for decades to come, and extracting more economic value from our precious and limited resources.”

The EU is the world’s second-largest consumer market, after the United States. While there have been smaller-scale bans on single-use plastic items—Seattle and Malibu are both introducing such measures, and the U.K. is considering the same—an EU-wide push would be a very big deal indeed.

According to the Commission, its proposal—now open for consultation—would have major economic and environmental benefits. “Implementation of this proposal will aim to reduce littering by more than half for the ten single use plastic items, avoiding environmental damage which would otherwise cost €223 billion by 2030. It will also avoid the emission of 3.4 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2030,” it claimed.

The directive would also make EU countries set national targets for reducing the use of plastic food containers and drinks cups, force industry to help cover the costs of waste management, and encourage deposit refund schemes in countries so that 90% of single-use plastic drinks bottles are collected by 2025.

Unlike EU regulations (such as the new General Data Protection Regulation, Europe’s new privacy regime), which apply uniformly across the bloc, EU directives give member states some leeway in how they can implement the new law. Once the consultation has run its course, it will need to be approved by the European Parliament and EU member states before coming into force.