European legislators saw no option but a complete ban on single-use plastics due in large part to the collapse of economics that underlie global recycling.
The decision to ban plastic straws, coffee stirrers, cutlery, expanded polystyrene (Styrofoam) plates and cups, balloon sticks and even cotton swabs made with plastic, effective 2021, was made urgent by the enormous quantities of marine garbage in public view (and the recognition this represents only a fraction of the actual waste since most plastic in a marine environment sinks). Combined, the 10 items named make up more than 70 percent of marine litter. The ban applies equally to these items whether made from recyclable and bio-based plastics or made from compostable or biodegradable plastics.
This is because when plastic debris breaks down from wear and tear, it does not decompose the way other products like wood do – but instead breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, becoming “microplastic.”
The ban will have an immediate impact on retailers who are expected to switch from Styrofoam to paper takeaway cups and plates; eliminate plastic stirrers, and switch to cutlery made from bamboo, for example.
Hot cups and beverage bottles are another matter as there are currently few inexpensive alternatives. Recognizing the impact on the beverage industry, members of Parliament, in-lieu of a ban, mandated that manufacturers collect 90 percent of beverage containers and ensure they are produced from 35 percent recycled content by 2025. The legislation requires a 25 percent reduction in food wrap and culinary products where no recyclable alternative currently exists. Cigarette makers must reduce plastic used in filters by 50 percent in five years and by 80 percent by 2030. Member states should also ensure that at least 50 percent of lost or abandoned fishing gear containing plastic is collected per year, with a recycling target of at least 15 percent by 2025. Fishing gear represents 27 percent of waste found on Europe’s beaches.
The final legislation, strenuously opposed by Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Nestle, will impose obligations on producers in relation to the costs of waste management and building awareness.
Europe is the world’s second largest consumer market. The Parliamentary vote was overwhelming, a milestone that will lead to a three-way negotiation with 28-member governments and the European Commission. Adoption is expected by March.
Frédérique Ries, the member of parliament who authored the legislation, said it was “a victory for our oceans, for the environment and for future generations.”
China Goes Green
Public uproar over flotsam sparked rage, but what really needs a remedy is the diversion of recyclable plastics to landfills.
The EU tosses 150,000 metric tons of plastic into European waters and recycles only a quarter of the 25 million metric tons of plastics waste it produces per year.
Until this year China welcomed plastic as a raw product, accepting roughly half of the world’s plastic waste. But the tide turned when it became apparent that by inviting the world’s garbage it became the world’s greatest polluter.
This sprint China banned the import of plastics with greater than 0.5 percent contaminants. The decision will displace more than 111 million metric tons of plastic waste by 2030, according to researchers.
A report by Global World News concludes “that will leave developed countries with little choice but to landfill their recyclables, invest in new domestic facilities or ship the plastic off to developing nations that currently lack the infrastructure to handle additional imports.”
In a release announcing the vote, Parliament noted that “while plastics are a convenient, adaptable, useful, and economically valuable material, they need to be better used, re-used and recycled. When littered, the economic impact of plastics encompasses not just the lost economic value in the material, but also the costs of cleaning up and losses for tourism, fisheries, and shipping.”