Europe sets the standard in fight against plastic litter

After more than 12 hours of negotiations, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union reached an agreement this morning on new measures to keep litter out of our seas and oceans.

​Our Flemish member Mark Demesmaeker welcomes the result: “More than 80% of the litter that is found on our beaches contains plastic. About half of this comes from disposable products. Without action, there will be more plastic than fish in our seas by 2050. We want to turn the tide against the world’s growing plastic waste problem with an ambitious package of customized measures.”

The agreement focuses mainly on the 10 single-use plastics that are most often found washed up or still in the sea, as well as lost and abandoned fishing gear. These items together account for 70% of all marine litter.

A number of products for which more sustainable and affordable alternatives already exist will be banned from the market, such as plastic cotton buds, cutlery, plates, straws, drink stirrers, sticks for balloons and food and beverage containers made of expanded polystyrene.

Products made of oxo-degradable plastic will be also banned. “The problem with oxo-degradable plastic is that it does not break down, but rather fragments into microplastic which is harmful to the environment. The ban is an important victory for the European Parliament, which has been working on this for a long time,” said Demesmaeker.

Member States are also expected to significantly reduce the use of plastic food containers and disposable plastic drink cups thanks to improved product design, labelling and awareness-raising.

Other measures have also been agreed. By 2029, Member States will have to collect 90% of the plastic beverage bottles for single use separately. A 30% target has been set for recycled content in all new plastic bottles by 2030. All beverage containers will need to have caps attached to them as of 2024.

Mark Demesmaeker stresses that the European Parliament and some member states wanted to proceed at a faster pace. Flanders is already raising the bar with a recycling target for plastic bottles of 90% by 2022 and a target of 50% recycled plastic for PET bottles by 2025.

Even with plastic cigarette filters, the number two in the top ten list of most found plastic disposable products, the agreement is strict. Mark Demesmaeker emphasizes the importance of this: “A plastic cigarette butt does not break down and one cigarette can pollute up to 500 litres of water. Producers of tobacco filters with plastic must pay for the clean-up costs and for the necessary public infrastructure to collect these butts. In addition to the existing health warnings, there will be an environmental warning on the packaging of plastic tobacco products.”

Both the European Parliament and the Council must now ratify the agreement which is expected to come into force in 2021.

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