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'Significant First Blow to Plastic Pollution Monster' as EU Reaches Landmark Deal on Single-Use Products

"Today's decision could soon become one of Europe's proudest achievements, but national governments must introduce these laws swiftly."

plastic monster

Anti-pollution campaigners and First Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans (center) attend a November event called "slaying the plastic pollution monster." (Photo: Rethink Plastic)

In a landmark deal celebrated by campaigners as "a significant first blow to the plastic pollution monster," the European Union (EU) on Wednesday reached an agreement to dramatically scale back single-use plastics across the continent.

"Citizens across Europe want to see an end to our throwaway culture and politicians have taken the first step," Meadhbh Bolger, a resource justice campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, said on behalf of the Rethink Plastic alliance. "The time is ripe for Europe to transition away from single-use plastics to reusables."

While warning of delays and the non-binding nature of some provisions, anti-pollution activists including Kevin Stairs, Greenpeace EU chemicals policy director, still welcomed the development.

"These new EU rules are a great first step to fight the plastic pollution that's choking our rivers and oceans, but there's a risk that some plastic producers making money from this throwaway culture could be let off the hook," he said. "National governments must now commit to holding the producers accountable, and to seriously cutting the plastic production and use that threatens nature and our health."

The rules negotiated by reprensentatives from the European Parliament, Council, and Commission would ban several single-use plastic products—including cotton buds, straws, plates, cutlery, beverage stirrers, balloon sticks, oxo-degradable plastics, and expanded polystyrene food containers and beverage cups.

Additionally, they would feature schemes to make manufacturers pay for cleanup costs, require member states to track and set targets for fishing gear, and mandate labels for plastic products and the environmental impacts of littering. However, they also include a "vague" and non-binding goal to cut consumption of food containers and cups, and delays for beverage container policies.

With that in mind, Delphine Lévi Alvarès, European coordinator of the Break Free From Plastic movement, noted that "the public call to stop plastic pollution is loud and strong, it is unacceptable to ignore it." She called on EU member states to "immediately adopt ambitious targets to cut single-use plastics, and ensure producers pay for their pollution."

The deal follows an October vote in which the European Parliament overwhelmingly supported advancing a proposal on single-use plastics that initially had been introduced in May. The rules still require final approval from members states and the Parliament, but are expected to move forward. National governments will then have two years to implement individual measures, which would come into force by early 2021 at the latest.

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