EU member states have introduced new legislation in preparation for the EU’s comprehensive new plastics and packaging waste strategy.
The new plastics and packaging waste strategy was announced last month, and seeks to tackle the escalating problem of plastic pollution in ocean and reinforce the European Commission’s aim of creating a circular economy.
Friends of the Earth Europe’s Meadhbh Bolger welcomed the announcement of the strategy, but insisted that it must take packaging into account as an urgent priority: “We need to see concrete legislation addressing plastic pollution, and most importantly, legislation to slash the amount plastic we produce and consume, especially single use plastic and unnecessary packaging”.
What steps are EU member states taking?
Now, many European member states are making efforts to cut down on the use of non-biodegradable plastics ahead of the implementation of the strategy. Italy has introduced new legislation imposing the use of biodegradable bags for groceries, and will also enact a small tax on each bag to discourage consumers from collecting them.
However, the country has also received criticism for a rule forbidding customers from bring their own reusable bags, which is forbidden for hygiene reasons. Environmental organisation Zero Waste Europe has announced it is collecting evidence on the hygienic implications of reusable bags to investigate the viability of this rule.
The UK government has also recently announced its own efforts to tackle plastic waste, and Greece has introduced a plastic bag charge, which has proved controversial with consumers in the country.
What makes plastic bags bad for the environment?
Plastic bags are likely to be specifically targeted in the EU’s plastics and packaging waste strategy, because they are easily produced but can take many years to fully break down.
Greenpeace Europe’s Kevin Stairs has criticised the design of biodegradable plastic bags, warning that the label can sometimes mislead consumers: “Often, bags are labelled as biodegradable, but it is not true since they only biodegrade under controlled conditions.”
Some plastic bags are only biodegradable in specific circumstances, such as high temperature or humidity; but in a natural environment, such bags do not break down so easily. Further, he added, “Some companies add oxidising substances so that the bags break down faster. But these are said to make the problem worse as they create unbiodegradable microplastics.”