Text: Henrik Hamrén
Parliament approve single-use plastics proposal – an important step forward for the Baltic Sea
The European Parliament has voted in favor of introducing new and extensive measures to reduce the plastic littering. Researcher Damien Bolinius believe the measures can make a big difference for the Baltic Sea – if they come into effect.
The Parliament plenary vote on the Environmental Committees report builds on the European Commission’s original single-use plastic proposal. The vote was backed by 571-53, with 34 abstentions – and is a prospective great win for the Baltic Sea, according to Damien Bolinius, researcher at Stockholm University Baltic Sea Centre.
– Single-use plastic items and fishing gear make up most of the litter that is found on European beaches, giving an indication of what can be found in the sea. This problem has been increasingly highlighted in recent years, and we’re happy to see that Parliament now wants to strengthen the legislative tools for reducing the environmental impact of single-use plastic on the marine environment, he says.
After the Parliament vote, the MEP responsible for the bill, Frédérique Ries, said it was "a victory for our oceans, for the environment and for future generations."
The Parliament’s environmental committee (ENVI) proposed several improvements which the plenary vote now supports.
– We particularly liked the inclusion of cigarette filters, which are one of the most common pieces of litter that we find in both the marine environment and on land. Most cigarette filters contain a large fraction of plastic which break down very slowly. Used filters can also be ingested by marine animals, and contain many toxic chemicals that can be released to water and soil, he says.
Furthermore, the ENVI amendments to the Commission’s original proposal added takeaway boxes and cups made of expanded polystyrene to the list of banned items. Plates and cutlery made of plastic are exempted from the ban until 2023, but only in hospitals and school canteens.
– We are also happy to see that the issue of agricultural plastics now seems included into the proposal. A large fraction of agricultural mulch is littered into the environment as it can be difficult to recover the mulch from the soil, says Damien Bolinius.
The use of plastic mulch in agriculture is projected to increase in Europe in the future. According to Damien Bolinius, there are different product design requirements, for example increased film thickness, that can be enforced to make it easier to retrieve and recycle the mulch after use.
– It would also be possible to introduce extended producer responsibility schemes or separate collection objectives, that would help increase the collection and recycling of this type of plastic, he says.
After today’s vote, the Parliament’s report nowstates that Member States have until 2025 to, among other things, achieve:
- an “ambitious and sustained” reduction of single-use food and drink containers
- a minimum annual collection rate of 50 percent of all plastic fishing gear (and recycle 15 percent)
- that 90 percent of all plastic bottles are separately collected and recycled.
- a reduction of 50 percent of the post- consumption waste from tobacco product filters containing plastic
– There also seems to have been a successful vote on an amendment to include the labelling of single-use plastic products with information regarding chemicals of very high concern. This is highly welcomed, and in line with the conclusions that we recently published in a policy brief about chemicals in consumer articles, says Damien Bolinius.
Despite the quite extensive measures now stated in the Parliament’s report, there is still more that can be done to reduce the environmental impact of single-use plastic, according to Damien Bolinius.
– We would have liked to see the inclusion of very light plastic bags to the list of banned items, as these types of bags are not covered by the plastic carrier bags directive. But while suggested in the amendment by ENVI, it seems to have been voted against, he says.
The next step for the legislative file is for the Environment Council to vote on their report. Hopefully the Austrian Presidency will be able to finalise the dossier before the end of its term.