2019.03.29

"This decision reduces the supply of new plastic"

2019.03.29

Ban on single-use plastics favors Baltic Sea

There will be a ban on straws, plastic cutlery, cotton bud sticks, and several other single-use plastics across the EU by 2021.

Text: Henrik Hamrén, Photo: Marie Löf

With the votes 560–35, Members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg decided on Wednesday to introduce a ban on the most common single-use plastics that pollute European beaches and seas.

– Plastics breaks down very slowly in nature, which means that plastics in the sea are a problem that we will have to bear for a long time to come. However, this recent decision by the Parliament will reduce the supply of new plastics to European waters, says Marie Löf, ecotoxicologist at Stockholm University's Baltic Sea Center.

The new directive also includes measures against fishing gear. Together with single-use plastic items, these account for about 70 percent of all marine litter, according to EU Commission estimates.

– In the Baltic Sea, plastic litter is not carried up on to the beaches by currents in the same way as on the Swedish west coast, and therefore is not as visible. But even in the Baltic Sea, most of the marine litter is plastic. Therefore, this decision is equally welcome for the Baltic Sea as for other surface waters of the EU, especially considering that eight out of nine countries around the Baltic Sea are EU members, says Marie Löf.

The new directive is expected to come into force in 2021. By then, the following single-use plastics should be phased out in all EU countries:

• cutlery and plates for single use

• straws

• cotton bud sticks

• balloon sticks

• stirrers

• food and beverage containers made of expanded polystyrene

• all single-use products made of oxo-degradable plastics.

Furthermore, plastic recycling will be made more efficient. By 2029, 90 percent of all plastic bottles should be collected. And by 2025, the plastic bottles should be made of 25 percent recycled content (30 percent in 2030).

In addition, the Polluter Pays Principle will be strengthened regarding, for instance, fishing nets and cigarette filters. Companies that manufacture these products will be forced to account for a greater proportion of the costs of collecting lost nets from the seas or clearing beaches from cigarette butts.

Cups, food packaging, wipes and several other products containing plastic must also be labeled with a warning text that describes what damage they can cause when they end up in the environment.

– Overall, I see this new legislation as an important first step in addressing many common types of marine litter. But we cannot sit back and think that we now have solved the problem with marine plastic litter. There is more that needs to be done, says Marie Löf, and points out that marine litter is a global problem that requires global action.

– Hopefully, this ban can inspire other initiatives both within the EU and in other regions of the world that have not already taken similar initiatives to protect the marine environment, she says.

FACTS:

Every year, Europeans generate about 25 million tons of plastic litter, of which only 30 percent is recycled.

Just over 80 percent of all marine litter is plastic.

If mankind continues to spread plastics in nature at the same rate as today, there can be more plastics than fish in the world oceans in 2050.

(Sources: The European Commission, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation)

Marie Löf

Ecotoxicologist
marie.lof@su.se