Worldwide Dive and Sail is doing it, New York City is doing it, heck, even the Queen of England is doing it—and now, the European Commission is proposing new rules to reduce reliance on single-use plastics. The proposals target 10 products most frequently entering Europe’s seas and found on its beaches: If the rules take effect, plastic cotton buds, cutlery, plates, straws, drink stirrers, and sticks for balloons will all be required to be made from “more sustainable materials.” Lost and abandoned fishing gear is also being targeted, with the measures requiring producers of plastic fishing gear to cover the costs of waste collection, transport and treatment.
The proposals also require member states to reduce their use of plastic food containers and drinks cups, require producers to help cover the costs of waste management and cleanup, and require 90% of single-use plastic drinks bottles to be collected by 2025. Worldwide, just 14% of plastic is collected for recycling, considerably worse than paper (58%) and iron and steel (up to 90%). The European Commission is also calling for plastics producers to be more involved in awareness-raising measures for products such as food containers, packets and wrappers, tobacco products with filters, and lightweight plastic bags. Incentives will be introduced to develop less-polluting alternatives for such items.
While it called the new proposals “a leap forward in tackling plastic pollution,” the Rethink Plastic Alliance—an association of environmental organizations—criticized the plans, pointing out that there are no targets set for EU countries to reduce the use of plastic cups and food containers. The plastics industry also took issue with the proposals, arguing that more resources should be dedicated to waste management, rather than introducing outright bans.
For the new rules to come into force could take three or four years—time that the oceans really don’t have.
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