The European Commission is proposing new EU-wide rules that target the 10 single-use plastic products most often found on Europe's beaches and seas.
In addition to lost and abandoned fishing gear, these constitute 70% of all marine litter items.
Due to its slow decomposition, plastic accumulates in seas, oceans and on beaches in the EU and worldwide. Plastic residues are found in marine species—such as sea turtles, seals, whales and birds, but also in fish and shellfish—and therefore in the human food chain. The EU goes on to say that while plastics are a convenient, adaptable, useful and economically valuable material, they need to be better used, reused and recycled.
When littered, the economic impact of plastics encompasses not just the lost economic value in the material but also the costs of cleaning up and losses for tourism, fisheries and shipping.
The commission is proposing a comprehensive set of measures to address this problem. The Single Use Plastics Directive is an integral part of the wider approach announced in the Plastics Strategy and an important element of the Circular Economy Action Plan. It builds on the successful reduction in consumption of single-use plastic carrier bags brought about by EU legislation in 2014 and on the newly revised EU waste legislation, which includes targets for the recycling of plastics.
The following sets of measures are proposed, corresponding to the characteristics of each single-use plastic item: Where alternatives are readily available and affordable, single-use plastic products will be banned from the market. The ban will apply to plastic cotton buds, cutlery, plates, straws, drink stirrers and balloon sticks, which will all have to be made exclusively from more sustainable materials instead. Single-use drink containers made with plastic will only be allowed on the market if their caps and lids remain attached.
Certain products will require a clear and standardized label that indicates how waste should be disposed of, the negative environmental impact of the product and the presence of plastics in the products. This will apply to sanitary towels, wet wipes and balloons.
Sounds like a model for what we need to do here in the U.S. as well.