Parliamentarians in the EU have voted to prohibit single-use plastic cutlery, straws, stirrers, food and drink containers and cotton buds by 2021.

By Daniel Herborn


Posted on March 29, 2019

The plastic ban legislation was voted through on 27 March. It will see also see 28 member states of the EU take further measures to ensure manufacturers recycle more of their products. The legislation was passed in a landslide with 560 voting in favour, 35 against and 28 abstaining.

Some 85% of marine waste is made up of plastic. The proliferation of the synthetic material has led to dangerous levels of ocean pollution and even gruesome cases of whales dying because they had ingested masses of plastic waste. It has also been linked with adverse health impacts in humans.

China’s decision to stop the practice of such waste to be processed also played into the decision. Between 1988 and 2017, China had processed nearly half all plastic waste produced across the world.

‘Polluter pays’ model to discourage plastic waste

The other major component of the new laws is the requirement that each member state collects and recycles at least 90% of its drink bottles by 2029.

The producers of single-use plastic materials will all need to take steps to educate consumers on how to properly dispose of their products. Some costs for the clean-up of litter will also be shifted to producers.

Tobacco producers will also be required to pay the considerable costs of cleaning up cigarette butt litter, which is the second most littered single-use plastic item.

Tobacco companies will also play a role, covering the cost of collecting littered cigarette butts, which are the second most littered single-use plastic items, according to Al Jazeera.

EU taking steps to mitigate marine pollution

In a statement, Frans Timmerman, European Commission Vice-President, said: “Today we have taken an important step to reduce littering and plastic pollution in our oceans and seas.

“Europe is setting new and ambitious standards, paving the way for the rest of the world.”

Vice-President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness Jyrki Kaitanen said that the new rules would “make the European Union the world leader in a more sustainable plastic policy” as well as incentivising innovation and boosting the circular economy.

TIME has estimated that the new legislation will save some US$25 billion in environmental damage by the year 2030.

Currently, EU member states produce 25 million tonnes of plastic waste each year and only recycle less than 30% of it. The slow decomposition rate of this material makes it particularly prone to accumulate in the oceans and on beaches.

Many EU nations have already put legislative measures in place to ban or restrict the production and use of single-use plastic bags.

Research has suggested that if the world continues with its current rates of consumption, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050.

Header image credit: Martijn Baudoin