The European Parliament passed a law on 28 April to drastically cut down on single-use plastic bags. EURACTIV France reports.
Single-use plastic bags could soon become a thing of the past in European supermarkets. On Tuesday (28 April), MEPs approved the final version of a text drastically limiting the use of plastic bags in EU member states.
These bags, which are often only used once, are a scourge on the environment, take several centuries to degrade and are particularly harmful to marine ecosystems.
Around eight billion of these bags end up polluting the European environment every year, according to estimates.
Limits in 2019 and 2025
Gilles Parneaux, a Socialist Party MEP, said that in France alone “an estimated 122 million plastic bags pollute 5,000 kilometres of coast”.
The new law requires member states to progressively reduce their use of plastic bags, with an initial threshold of 90 bags per person per year by 2019, followed by 40 bags in 2025. Certain countries like Hungary, Portugal and Poland and heavy plastic bag users and will have to make radical changes in order to comply with these limits.
At the other end of the scale, some EU member states like Finland and Luxembourg already find themselves on the right side of the future limits. With an average consumption of 79 plastic bags per person per year, France is already well below the first threshold.Plastic bag use in the EU
“This legislation will create a genuine win-win situation,” said the Danish rapporteur Margrete Auken, from the Group of the Greens. “We’re talking about an immense environmental problem. Billions of plastic bags end up directly in nature as untreated waste. It damages nature, harms fish, birds, and we have to get to grips with this,” she added.
In 2010, each EU citizen used an average of 198 plastic bags, and without regulation, the number was rising.
This binding regulation leaves the individual states free to choose their preferred approach to reducing plastic bag use. One popular method is to introduce a compulsory charge for single-use plastic bags.
Some countries have already successfully implemented a nation-wide charge for plastic bags. But other top performers, like Finland, have no legislation on the matter. The sale of paper bags in almost all of the country’s supermarkets has rendered single-use plastic bags all but obsolete, and Finnish citizens use an average of only 4 plastic bags per year.
Member states have until 2019 to enact the new law, but “they can choose to act faster if they want”, said French Green MEP Michèle Rivasi. France has already adopted a national ban on the distribution of single-use plastic bags, which will enter into force on 1 January 2016.
The dangers of “ersatz” plastic bags
While the adoption of the law has been broadly welcomed by MEPs, the future of bio-degradable plastic bags is still uncertain.
Supporters of this material insist it is a viable biodegradable alternative, but opponents say the plastic does not in fact degrade, but breaks up into toxic micro particles.
Michèle Rivasi said “Some producers are making biodegradable bags that leave behind plastic micro particles that we will then find in oysters, for example.”
The new law requires the European Commission to investigate the environmental impact of these bio-degradable plastics, in order to decide whether to label them as plastic, bio-degradable or compostable in 2017.