The European Commission is asking the public how best to reduce the use of plastic carrier bags. It will ask if charging and taxation would be effective, or if other options such as an EU-level ban on plastic carrier bags would be better. Opinions will also be sought on increasing the visibility of biodegradable packaging products, and boosting the biodegradability requirements for packaging. The web-based consultation runs until August 2011.
European Commissioner for Environment Janez Potocnik said, “Fifty years ago, the single-use plastic bag was almost unheard of – now we use them for a few minutes and they pollute our environment for decades. But social attitudes are evolving and there is a widespread desire for change. That’s why we are looking at all the options, including a Europe-wide ban on plastic carrier bags. We need the views of as many people as possible to complement our scientific analyses and help drive policy on this issue, which is suffocating our environment.”
Reducing the use of plastic carrier bags
Every year, the average EU citizen consumes approximately 500 plastic carrier bags, and most of them are used only once. The total volume of plastic carrier bags produced in Europe in 2008 was 3.4 million tonnes, which equals the weight of over 2 million passenger cars. The low weight and small size of plastic bags means they often escape waste management and end up in the marine environment, where their eventual decay can take hundreds of years.
Some Member States have already taken action to reduce the use of plastic carrier bags through pricing measures, agreements with the retail sector and bans on certain types of bags, but no specific measures exist at the EU level. In March 2011 EU environment ministers discussed the environmental impact of plastic carrier bags and the concerns they raised indicated that effective EU action is needed.
More visibility for biodegradable packaging
The consultation also aims to gather views on the adequacy of current requirements on compostability and biodegradability in the EU Packaging Directive. The Directive doesn’t allow for a clear distinction between biodegradable products that should biodegrade in natural conditions in the environment, and compostable products that only biodegrade in industrial composting facilities. Advertising a packaging product as biodegradable when in fact it will not biodegrade in natural conditions can be misleading, and contributes to the proliferation of litter.
The consultation gathers views on the environmental, social and economic impacts that might result from measures to improve the biodegradability requirements of packaging products, including the visibility of biodegradable packaging to consumers.
The longevity of plastic bags means that there are now some 250 billion plastic particles with a combined weight of 500 tonnes floating in the Mediterranean Sea alone. These particles can cause suffocation in sea creatures that ingest them accidentally or mistake them for food. Plastics break into tiny particles, and have a high potential for contaminating soil and waterways as they may contain additives such as persistent organic pollutants.
Source: Gozonews.com, 2011-05-18.