A new legislation to reduce the consumption of single-use plastic carrier bags has been approved by the European Parliament on 28th April 2015. The law will be applicable for plastic bags thinner than 0.05mm.
The new law obliges EU Member States to introduce measures that reduce the use of lightweight plastic bags by almost 50%, with an initial threshold of 90 bags per person per year by the end of 2019 and by 80% by the end of 2025 compared to 2010, when each EU citizen used an average of 198 plastic bags per year, with peak of 450 bags per person per year in some countries.
Single-use plastic bags are often only used once, take centuries to degrade and are particularly harmful to marine ecosystems. In Europe, around 8 billion of these bags end up polluting the environment every year, according to estimates.
"This legislation will create a genuine win-win situation," said the Danish rapporteur Margrete Auken, from the Group of the Greens. "We're talking about an immense environmental problem. Billions of plastic bags end up directly in nature as untreated waste. It damages nature, harms fish, birds, and we have to get to grips with this," she added. Once the bill is implemented, Auken added that the European Commission will be able to save close to €740m annually.
Individual states are free to choose their preferred approach to reducing plastic bag use. One popular method is to introduce a compulsory charge for single-use plastic bags.
Other countries opted for a national plastic bags ban, like Italy where the legislation started in 2011 and has already reduced by 50% the quantity of single-use plastic bags in circulation. Similarly, France has adopted a national ban on the distribution of single-use plastic bags, which will enter into force on 1 January 2016.
"We highly appreciate the strong environmental commitment of the European institutions demonstrated by these ambitious targets. The new legislation reaffirms the potential of biodegradable and compostable shopping bags to tackle the challenges of plastic bag consumption and lead to a more resource efficient Europe,” says François de Bie, Chairman of European Bioplastics. "Compostable plastic bags have important ecological advantages, enhance the separate collection of biowaste, and thereby divert it from landfill. Compostable bags should be clearly marked and labelled so consumers can easily identify them as suitable for organic waste collection, which keeps these bags out of traditional plastic waste streams. Against this background, European Bioplastics welcomes the endorsement of EN13432 in the Plastic Packaging Waste Directive as the standard to certify biodegradation, and the commitment to further develop EU-wide standardisation of compostability and coherent labelling. The ‘Seedling Logo is an internationally recognized compostability label that is connected to the EN 13432/EN 14995 standards and the certification process managed by the independent institutions DIN CERTCO and Vinçotte. “For the advantages of compostable bags to take full effect, clear standards, coherent labelling, as well as separate collection of biowaste should be promoted across Europe”, de Bie concluded.
According to Clean Up Australia research, more than three billion plastic bags are used in Australia annually, with 50 million ending up as litter.