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. A bag tax would be an acceptable equivalent measure.
“It's a huge victory not only for 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,” Dutch politician Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy told the Guardian newspaper.
In 2010, the average EU citizen used 176 plastic bags a year, though usage varies widely between member states, EU data shows. For instance, Poles and Slovaks use an average of 466 disposable bags annually, whereas Danes, who are charged for bags, use only four each year.
The EU deal is part of a growing trend of plastic bag bans and restrictions. In November, Baltimore became the first East Coast city in the U.S. to pass a bag ban. California was the first to pass a statewide ban, though plastic bag manufacturers have since poured millions of dollars into the state in an effort to overturn the legislation.