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EU plans action to bin lightweight plastic bags

Europe – EU member states will be encouraged to tax or even ban lightweight single-use plastic bags handed out in shops, Reuters has reported. ‘Some member states have already achieved great results in terms of reducing their use of plastic bags,’ environment commissioner Janez Potočnik points out. ‘If others followed suit, we could reduce today’€™s overall consumption in the European Union by as much as 80%.’

Potočnik wants any country to be allowed to ban plastic bags completely, which is currently impossible because of single-market rules. Denmark is widely heralded as a success story. By implementing mandatory taxes on single-use plastic bags, the nation has seen its use drop to only four bags per person each year. The figure is easily the lowest in the EU and compares with 466 bags used per person in Poland, Portugal and Slovakia.

‘Too timid’

However, Denmark’s Green Member of the European Parliament, Margrete Auken, is doubtful the rest of Europe will see such results if proposals remain ‘too timid’. Her criticism is that the EU has set no specific targets and has left individual member states to decide how to reduce plastic bag usage. ‘The failure to set out clear targets for reducing lightweight plastic bags will clearly undermine the prospect of ensuring a reduction across the EU,’ Auken has argued.

Potočnik insists: ‘We’re taking action to solve a very serious and highly-visible environmental problem.’ Every year, more than 8 billion plastic bags end up as litter in Europe, causing enormous environmental damage, while an estimated 94% of birds in the North Sea area have consumed stray pieces of plastic, he added.

The European Commission hopes to introduce the new rules as soon as next year. However, it is feared that the legislation could be temporarily sidelined because of the European Parliament elections in May 2014.

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