EU Parliament backs ban on single-use plastic products

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01:24 mins.
27.03.2019

EU votes to ban single-use plastics

The European Parliament has approved a ban on disposable plastic products, bringing the ban one step closer to reality. The ban would affect a wide range of products that have alternatives, such as straws and cutlery.

The European Parliament has voted overwhelmingly in support of a wide-ranging ban on single-use plastics to counter pollution from the discarded items in waterways and fields.

The Parliament backed the ban 560-35. EU member states have given their support but need to vote on the measure for it to go into effect.

The ban would be implemented from 2021 and would affect a range of plastic products that have reasonable alternatives, such as plastic cutlery, foam takeout food containers, straws and drink stirrers.

Read more: Plastic waste and its environmental impact

Disposable utensils would not be completely banned, but the measure calls for them to be made of sustainable materials when possible.

Nature and Environment | 16.03.2019

Products subject to labels

Other products will not be banned but subject to new design and label requirements, while producers will be under tougher waste management obligations to minimize their use. 

Wet wipes packaging, for example, must inform consumers of the presence of plastic in the wipes and the damage that is done to the environment if they are not thrown into a bin. 

The approved legislation also sets a goal of having plastic bottles be 90 percent recycled by 2025, and to cut in half the amount of litter from the 10 items that turn up in oceans most often.

Inside an attempt to live without plastic packaging

Less edible, more functional

These liquid soaps and cleaning liquids on the other hand are not for drinking. They don't all smell divine either, but they serve a purpose. Two in fact, given that, besides cleaning, they also remove the need to buy their plastic-wrapped factory-made counterparts.

Inside an attempt to live without plastic packaging

Cosmetics with a difference

Berlin now has two shops that sell unpackaged ingredients for making your own cosmetics and cleaning products, and the internet has an endless supply of suggested combinations for soft, sweet-smelling skin. What's not to like?

Inside an attempt to live without plastic packaging

The proof of the pudding...

... because you genuinely could eat it all. That's not to say it would taste good or necessarily be nutritious, but it is testimony to the natural nature of many make-your-own potions, lotions and creams. And not a tube or plastic bottle in sight.

Inside an attempt to live without plastic packaging

Teething problems

As with cosmetics, there are many recipes for homemade toothpaste online. But if that's an (understandably) acquired taste too far, it's possible to get hold of minty tooth tabs either loose or in paper bags. These can be used with a bamboo toothbrush, and if you really want to go for it, complemented with a length of all-natural floss.

Inside an attempt to live without plastic packaging

The hard stuff

Keeping clean doesn't have to involve a row of plastic bottles. Soap, which predates shower gel by donkey's years, has always been widely available. But even solid shampoos and conditioners are becoming easier to get hold of. And for all their hard exterior, they have a soft touch.

Inside an attempt to live without plastic packaging

Bags of potential

Supermarkets still have rolls and rolls of those thin plastic bags for customers to use to carry fruit and veg home. Once there, the vast majority are immediately disposed of. Doesn't make a lot of sense, and even said supermarkets must be cottoning on, because they are also starting to sell cloth bags for the same purpose.

Inside an attempt to live without plastic packaging

Totes to last

And while we are on the subject of bags... Plastic carriers have not been banned in Germany, although some shops have taken it on themselves to stop offering them. It's not as if there are no alternatives. It's just a matter of having them with you when needed.

Inside an attempt to live without plastic packaging

Paper all the way

Alternatives are harder to come by in the world of toilet paper and tissues. Given their destiny, the need to wrap them in plastic reads like one of life's little mysteries. It's for the sake of hygiene, manufacturers have been known to note. Really?

Changes to cost millions

The EU has estimated the changes will cost the bloc's economy €259 million to €695 million per year ($291 million to $781 million.)

The European Parliament has said plastics production is now 20 times higher than it was during the 1960s.

Read more: The plastics issue we seem to ignore

The proposals "will help us move on from single-use plastics and toward less consumption, the multiple use of better designed products, more innovation and a cleaner environment," said Margrete Auken, an EU lawmaker for the Greens/EFA group. "The next step is to move away from our waste-based culture."

The plastics ban was partly driven by China's decision to stop importing some of the EU's waste.

The ugly face of plastic pollution

The age of plastic

Plastic is lightweight, durable — and wildly popular. We've produced 8.3 billion metric tons of the material since mass production began in the 1950s. Because it doesn't easily biodegrade, much of what we've made now lives in landfills like this one on Nairobi's outskirts. Rubbish pickers there hunt for recyclable plastics to earn a living. But a lot of plastic also ends up in the ocean ...

The ugly face of plastic pollution

Rivers of plastic

Some 90 percent of plastic enters marine habitats via just 10 rivers: The Yangtze, the Indus, Yellow River, Hai River, the Nile, the Ganges, Pearl River, Amur River, the Niger, and the Mekong. These rivers run through highly populated areas with a lack of adequate waste disposal infrastructure. Here, a fisherman in the Philippines removes a fish and crab trap from plastic-filled waters.

The ugly face of plastic pollution

A plastic welcome to the world

Some animals have found uses for plastic waste. This swan nested in garbage on a Copenhagen lake that is popular with tourists. Her cygnets hatched surrounded by waste. It's not the best start to life. But for some animals the consequences are much worse ...

The ugly face of plastic pollution

Deadly consequences

Although plastic is highly durable and can be used for products with a long lifespan, such as furniture and piping, about 50 percent goes to disposable products, including single-use cutlery and six pack rings that end up in the natural environment. Animals, like this penguin, are in danger of becoming entangled and dying as a result.

The ugly face of plastic pollution

Eating plastic

Other animals mistake the material for food. This albatross chick was found dead on Sand Island in Hawaii with multiple pieces of plastic in its stomach. According to one study of 34 seabird species in northern Europe, Russia, Iceland, Svalbard, the Faroe Islands, Scandinavia and Greenland, 74 percent had ingested plastic. Eating the material can lead to organ damage and blockages in the gut.

The ugly face of plastic pollution

Whale killer

Even larger animals aren't immune to the effects of consuming plastic. This whale was found struggling to breathe and swim in a Thai canal. As rescuers attempted to save the animal, it vomited five plastic bags and later died. During the necropsy, vets found 80 shopping bags and other plastic garbage had clogged up the whale's stomach, so the marine creature could no longer digest nutritious food.

The ugly face of plastic pollution

Visible and invisible plastic

We're well aware of the large pieces of plastic bobbing on the ocean's surface, as is pictured here off the Hawaiian coast. But did you know, trillions of tiny particles less than 5 millimeters in diameter are also floating around in there? These particles end up in the food chain. Sea plankton, which are an important source of food for fish and other marine animals, have been filmed eating them.

The ugly face of plastic pollution

An end in sight?

Tentative measures to cut down on disposable plastic have already been taken in some African countries with bans on plastic bags, while the European Union is looking into prohibiting single-use plastic products. But if current trends continue, scientists believe there will be 12 billion metric tons of plastic on the planet by 2050.

law/cmk (AP, dpa)

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