By Lise Alves, Contributing Reporter
MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA – With increasing studies showing that single-use plastics may be one of the most damaging materials to the earth’s environment and its oceans, the European Parliament adopted last month an ambitious measure to ban these products by 2021.
The vote among European lawmakers was overwhelmingly in support of the ban, 560 in favor to 35 against. “There is a growing sense of urgency in European society to do whatever it takes to stop plastic pollution in our oceans,” said first Vice-President of the European Parliament, Frans Timmermans during the announcement last month.
According to Timmermans the new rules will help us to protect the health of those living in Europe and safeguard the continent’s natural environment, while promoting more sustainable production and consumption. “We can all be proud that Europe is setting new and ambitious standards, paving the way for the rest of the world,” added the lawmaker.
The European Union has estimated the ban will save the bloc’s economy billions in euros of environmental damage costs in the years ahead. “This legislation will reduce the environmental damage bill by $22 billion euros – the estimated cost of plastic pollution in Europe until 2030,” said Belgium representative, Frederique Ries.
According to the European Parliament the following products will be banned in the EU by 2021: single-use plastic cutlery, single-use plastic plates, plastic straws, cotton bud sticks made of plastic, plastic balloon sticks, oxo-degradable plastics and food containers and expanded polystyrene cups.
The measure also stipulates that member states will have to achieve a ninety percent collection target for plastic bottles by 2029, and plastic bottles will have to contain at least 25 percent of recycled content by 2025 and thirty percent by 2030.
“We are going to choke on plastic if we don’t do anything about this,” Timmermans was quoted as saying during an interview to UK daily The Guardian. “How many millions of straws do we use every day across Europe?” asked the lawmaker.
According to the European Parliament plastics production is now twenty times greater than it was during the 1960s. The measure, say officials, will also introduce extended responsibility for producers of fishing gear, to ensure that manufacturers, and not fishermen, bear the costs of collecting nets lost at sea.
Today, says the European Commission, more than eighty percent of marine litter is plastics. The new law would cover plastic products which make up seventy percent of all marine litter items, says the entity.
“Due to its slow rate of decomposition, plastic accumulates in seas, oceans and on beaches in the EU and worldwide. Plastic residue is found in marine species – such as sea turtles, seals, whales and birds, but also in fish and shellfish, and therefore in the human food chain,” explains the Commission.
According to studies, every year, Europeans generate 25 million tons of plastic waste, but less than thirty percent of that collected for recycling. The tons of non-recycled plastic waste is what the Commission is now trying to drastically reduce.
“The EU has delivered fast and effectively on a proposal the Commission presented just one year ago. All in all, it’s European legislation at its best – responding to popular demand, benefiting the planet as well its inhabitants, and genuinely leading the world,” concluded Karmenu Vella, commissioner for environment, maritime affairs and fisheries.
Canada’s government also announced it will ban single-use plastics by the beginning of 2021 earlier this month. The ban is expected to reduce by three million tons the amount of plastic waste thrown away by the country every year.
Currently, ten cities in the state of Florida – including Miami Beach – have rules to govern plastic straw use. According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, plastic straws are the fifth most common trash item found on beaches.
National Geographic reported that ninety percent of plastic used has been found in landfills and oceans. A study by the World Economic Forum suggests that the oceans will become more dense with plastic than fish by 2050.