Nearly 100 billion plastic bags were used in the European Union in 2010. Over 8 billion were thrown away afterwards. Many of them end up in the sea posing a huge threat for marine life.
In an attempt to tackle the plastic waste produced across the continent and its impact on sealife, Brussels presented proposals on Monday to reduce the use of lightweight plastic bags.
Under the new plan, member states will be encouraged to tax or even completely ban their use.
'Today's proposal amends the packaging and packaging waste directive and introduces an obligation for all member states to reduce the use of lightweight plastic bags while giving them the flexibility to choose the measures to reach that goal. These measures may include economic instruments such as charges, national reduction targets and marketing restrictions', said EU Environment commissioner Janez Potočnik.
The proposal has already been criticized as it fails to set out clear reduction targets across the EU. It will be up to the member states to decide how to limit their use by either introducing taxes, national targets or possibly bans.
In Denmark, where plastic bags are taxed, use of thin plastic bags has dropped to an estimated 4 bags per person each year, the lowest in the European Union. In Poland, Portugal and Slovakia, the average use is 466 bags per person.
'We could reduce our role consumption in the European Union by as much as approximately 80%. Ireland is a good recent example; the country introduced a levy on single use plastic bags and the result was a 95% decrease in plastic bag litter', said EU Environment commissioner Janez Potočnik.
Thin plastic bags are often used only once but can remain in the environment for hundreds of years. The Commission estimates that 94% of all birds in the North Sea have ingested plastic.