In a bid to curb the 15 million tonnes of waste entering our oceans each year, this month the European Union has voted to ban single-use plastics in member countries by 2021.
Frédérique Ries, a Belgian politician and member of the European Parliament, drafted the bill after research revealed that marine litter (of which 80 per cent is plastic) costs the EU €295 to €793 million a year.
Originally designed for convenience, the rise in production of single-use plastic and our inability to manage and process it has resulted in a devastating global problem.
Single-use plastics are disposable products designed to be used once and thrown away. They then end up in our oceans, polluting shorelines, clogging waterways and killing wildlife.
Earlier this year the World Economic Forum warned that if the current waste flow continues, by 2050 there could be more plastic than fish by weight in the oceans.
The new EU-wide rules focus on the 10 most common single-use plastic products found on beaches and in waterways. Some of the products have been banned completely, while the others have had tighter regulations imposed.
The newly regulated products are:
The EU currently recycles only a quarter of the 23 million tonnes of plastic it produces each year. To pressure stakeholders to step up their recycling efforts the bill sets ambitious targets.
All member countries will now be required to introduce initiatives that reduce the use of plastic food and drink containers. This includes a directive that from 2029 90 per cent of plastic bottles are to be made from recycled materials.
Globally, cigarette butts are one of the most-littered single-use plastic items. The EU is mandating that tobacco companies now have to cover the costs of cigarette stub collection from public areas.
Due to the amount of discarded fishing equipment found in European waters, net manufacturers will also be held responsible for covering the cost of their ocean pollution contributions.
The new EU bill represents further legislative progress in response to the growing global demand for action on plastic.
In March this year the City of Hobart became the first Australian capital to ban single-use plastics, including takeaway food containers and straws. The law is due to come into effect early 2020, following public consultation.
Closer to home, the City of Rockingham made headlines this month with its new plastic legislation. The policy and its accompanying guidelines are the most extensive single-use plastic strategy to be proposed by a WA council.
Minderoo’s Flourishing Oceans initiative welcomes any global plastic progress, whether it be in the EU or the City of Rockingham. We encourage all Australian cities to prioritise the health of our oceans and introduce single-use plastic legislation.