The European Union is proposing a total ban on ten single-use plastic products and fishing gear that account for 70% of litter in EU waters. Single-use plastic items such as straws, cutlery, plates, bottles, cotton buds, drink stirrers, balloon sticks in a bid to clean up the oceans. 500,000 tonnes of EU plastic waste end up in the sea every year. But why is the EU suddenly so keen to get rid of single-use plastic items? Blame China!
The EU Commission presented on Monday, the next step in EU’s Plastic Strategy Legislation to reduce single use plastics and boost sustainable alternatives.
The EU said in a statement that the new rules are proportionate and tailored to get the best results.
- This means different measures will be applied to different products.
- Where alternatives are readily available and affordable, single-use plastic products will be banned from the market.
- For products without straight-forward alternatives, the focus is on limiting their use through a national reduction in consumption; design and labelling requirements and waste management/clean-up obligations for producers.
Together, the new rules will put Europe ahead of the curve on an issue with global implications.
The new rules will introduce:
- Plastic ban in certain products: Where alternatives are readily available and affordable, single-use plastic products will be banned from the market. The ban will apply to plastic cotton buds, cutlery, plates, straws, drink stirrers and sticks for balloons which will all have to be made exclusively from more sustainable materials instead. Single-use drinks containers made with plastic will only be allowed on the market if their caps and lids remain attached;
- Consumption reduction targets: Member States will have to reduce the use of plastic food containers and drinks cups. They can do so by setting national reduction targets, making alternative products available at the point of sale, or ensuring that single-use plastic products cannot be provided free of charge;
- Obligations for producers: Producers will help cover the costs of waste management and clean-up, as well as awareness raising measures for food containers, packets and wrappers (such as for crisps and sweets), drinks containers and cups, tobacco products with filters (such as cigarette butts), wet wipes, balloons, and lightweight plastic bags. The industry will also be given incentives to develop less polluting alternatives for these products;
- Collection targets: Member States will be obliged to collect 90% of single-use plastic drinks bottles by 2025, for example through deposit refund schemes;
- Labelling Requirements: Certain products will require a clear and standardised labelling which indicates how waste should be disposed, the negative environmental impact of the product, and the presence of plastics in the products. This will apply to sanitary towels, wet wipes and balloons;
- Awareness-raising measures: Member States will be obliged to raise consumers’ awareness about the negative impact of littering of single-use plastics and fishing gear as well as about the available re-use systems and waste management options for all these products.
For fishing gear, which accounts for 27% of all beach litter, the Commission aims to complete the existing policy framework with producer responsibility schemes for fishing gear containing plastic. Producers of plastic fishing gear will be required to cover the costs of waste collection from port reception facilities and its transport and treatment. They will also cover the costs of awareness-raising measures. Details on the new rules for fishing gear are available here.
The Commission’s proposals will now go to the European Parliament and Council for adoption, and Brussels expects tangible results for Europeans before the elections in May 2019. It will also launch EU-wide awareness-raising campaigns.
“Tackling the plastics problem is a must and it can bring new opportunities for innovation, competitiveness and job creation,” the Commission said in a statement among others.
Of course, when Brussels want to sell a new “product” like the new plastic Strategy it has to sell it to the people as “money in their pockets, as a means to tackle unemployment.
But why is the EU suddenly so keen against single-use plastic? Blame China stopped accepting plastic waste from Europe since the beginning of the year.
The country in Far East was considered to be the most important buyer of EU’s plastic waste.
“China has recently added additional pressure on the EU as it does not accept plastic waste, since the beginning of the year. After all, the country was previously considered the most important buyer,: write German media.
In 2016, Germany exported 560,000 tons of plastic waste to China,that is one-third of the EU’s plastic waste export to China, which is – better way was – at 1.6 million tons.
For decades, China was the world’s largest importer of waste but that’s changing after Beijing banned 24 types of scraps from entering its borders starting January.
China was importing and recycled it to new plastic material but Peking does not want it anymore.
The Chinese ban was hailed as a big win for local and global green efforts by environmentalists, who said it would not only clean up China, but also force other countries to better manage their own trash.
Increased wealth in China has led also into increased plastic waste and unexpected problem sin short time.
China was the dumping ground for more than half of the world’s trash before the ban and, at its peak, was importing almost 9 million metric tons of plastic scrap a year, according to Greenpeace.
The country started importing waste in the 1980s to fuel a growing manufacturing sector. It grew a whole waste processing and recycling industry, but improper handling of trash and a lack of effective supervision turned the country into a major polluter.
China, now the second-largest economy in the world, has been doubling down on efforts to clean up its air, water and land. Under President Xi Jinping, the country has shuttered tens of thousands of factories that contributed pollution, pushed for greater use of renewable energy and became a green finance giant.
The country still has a long way to go, however, as a study released in March by The University of Chicago found that air pollution levels across China still exceed global standards set by the World Health Organization.
But it takes first steps and thse steps have a domino effect in our globalized world.
Import-stop means Export-stop and more than three months after the introduction of the ban, waste exporters such as the U.S., Europe and Japan are still scrambling for an alternative to China.