The European Union has approved a deal to dramatically reduce the number of single-use plastic bags given out in retail stores. The measure would slash the number of bags Europeans use each year by more than 75% over the next decade or so.
Under the proposal, EU member countries would be able to opt for mandatory pricing of bags by 2019, or adhere to binding targets to reduce the number of plastic bags used per person each year from 191 now to 90 by 2019 and 40 in 2025. Bag taxes would be acceptable as equivalent measures.
“The significance of this package is enormous,” Dutch politician Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy told the Guardian newspaper. “It is a huge victory for not only the European environment, but also globally as most of these single-use bags end up in the world's oceans and are one of the big causes of the ‘plastic soup’ phenomenon.”
Four years ago, the average EU citizen used 176 plastic bags, few of which are recycled, a number that is similar to other wealthy economies. However, usage varies widely between member states, EU data shows. For instance, Poles and Slovaks use an average of 466 disposable bags a year, whereas Danes, who are charged for them, use only four bags annually.
A trade group for the plastics industry was critical of the deal, saying a patchwork of different national rules on bags could impede trade. The group instead favors supermarkets charging customers for bags. Other opponents of the measure say implementing bag restriction legislation will be a struggle for some EU countries.
The EU deal is part of a growing trend of plastic bag bans and restrictions. Last week, Baltimore became the first East Coast city in the U.S. to pass a bag ban. Earlier this year, California became the first state in the U.S. to pass a statewide ban, though plastic bag manufacturers have spent millions of dollars since then working to overturn the legislation, according to reports. – TH