The European Union is set to approve a landmark agreement on Monday (24 November) designed to decrease the usage of plastic bags. When signed, the number of plastic bags used by Europeans every year could go down by more than three quarters in about ten years. Despite the opposition of the United Kingdom, the EU Commission has agreed to accept a compromise as most of the EU members did support the plastic bag deal. The compromise ought to see the new law sent to the Parliament today (21 November) for a vote in Strasbourg next week.
Under the new law, EU countries can choose obligatory pricing of bags by 2019 or binding objectives to decrease the number of plastic bags used each year per capita from 191 to 90 in five years’ time and to 40 in ten years’ time. The measures would also include something that could be described as “a plastic bag tax”. The Dutch liberal MEP, Gerbe-Jan Gerbrandy, said that the importance of this law is huge and that it was a major victory not only for the European environment but also for the global environmental since most plastic bags end up in the oceans and cause the so-called “plastic soup” phenomenon. “Plastic soup” broadly refers to the contamination of the oceans by plastics as a result of global warming, acidification, and overfishing. Because plastic does not biodegrade, “plastic soup” changes the world’s water into a global soup of micro-plastics via the degradation and fragmentation.
In the EU, about 4,5 billion of the plastic bags used each year end up as rubbish, mostly in landfills or waterways. A number of studies have shown floating debris of up to 100 items per square km, which threatens both mammals and birds with ingestion and entanglement. More than 100 species of mammals and birds are in fact known to have ingested plastics. According to the Green MEP, Margrete Auken, “the agreement on new EU rules to reduce plastic bag use is a historic step towards tackling the pervasive problem of plastic waste and one that has strong popular support.” She also stressed that ”Thankfully, the Commission has recognised this and decided not to obstruct the European Parliament and Council in finalising this important legislation.”