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Europe’s countdown on plastic straws, cups and cotton buds

Slowly but surely Europeans are saying goodbye to the throwaway culture, stepping up measures to meet EU guidelines on banning single-use plastics.

In a first step required of EU Member States, single-use cutlery, plates, stirring sticks, balloon holders, straws and cotton buds, as well as polystyrene cups and boxes, will no longer be in circulation by 3 July 2021. From 2029 there is a 90% collection target for plastic bottles and such bottles will have to contain at least 25% recycled content by 2025.

Sustainable policies also extend to tobacco manufacturers, who must cut the plastic in their cigarette filters. Fishing gear is another target, with producers of (for example) fishing nets having to pay for the cost of recovering materials lost at sea.

Germany leading the way?

Germans claim a leading role in setting a good example and take the ban seriously. With 20% of the rubbish collected in parks and other public spaces comprising single-use plastic, Germany is a big single use plastics consumer. ‘Many single-use plastic products are superfluous and non-sustainable use of resources,’ says environment minister Svenja Schulze.

In contrast, the UK has pushed back the date of when its single-use plastic ban will come into effect. It had been set to start in April but the government has delayed this by six months due to the coronavirus outbreak. Ironically, many producers and consumers are turning to single-use plastic cutlery and dishware as a ‘safer’ alternative during the global pandemic.

Experts speak out

According to Louise Edge, senior plastics campaigner at Greenpeace UK, such fears are unfounded. ‘Experts are telling us that when it comes to buying food and drinks, plastic packaging doesn’t offer any special protection – and reusable cups, bottles, and containers are perfectly safe to use, as long as they are washed properly and social distancing is observed,’ she says on the website of the Plastic Free World Conference & Expo.

Reusable dishware is safe if properly washed, so personal safety and environmental safety can go hand in hand, it is also being argued in an open letter from 100 scientists. 

The Plastic Free World Conference & Expo 2020 takes place on 9-10 November in Cologne, Germany.

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