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Sunday, August 18, 2013

EU legislation to limit single-use plastic shopping bags

Limiting plastic bag use is better for the environment per the EU Environmental Commission
Less plastic bag use reduces landfill waste
The European Union Environmental Commission is considering legislation that could empower member states to limit single-use plastic bags. The legislation would remove legal barriers between member countries so they could pass their own legislation that could tax the use of single-use plastic shopping bags or banning the plastic bags altogether.

EU Environmetal Commission 

According to European Union environmental commissioner, Janez Potocnik, plastic products, such as shopping bags, are mostly thrown away by consumers across Europe. This results in an immense amount of plastic waste ending up in landfills across the European Union. Potocnik claims that half of plastic waste ends up in landfills.

Potocnik blames cultural attitudes toward plastic. Since plastic is cheap, objects like plastic bottles to shopping bags, are thrown away after a single use. However, the Environmental Commission report, authored by Potocnik, claims that plastic costs never appreciated the true environmental costs of these goods. The market, the report claims, seldom adds environmental costs, so governments need to impose taxes and benefits to change consumer behavior for a greater good, like the environment. Potocnik wants the European Union to promote member states to minimize the single-use of plastic products, particularly shopping bags, which can be used multiple times. There are some concrete examples Potocnik cites where member nations devised policies to minimize plastic single-use. In 2002, Ireland imposed a tax on plastic bags. The result included a 90 percent reduction in plastic waste.

UK stance on plastic

In Britain, public discourse toward plastic legislation has built up steam in recent months. The actor, Jeremy Irons, has chastised governments for not doing more on plastic waste. Irons has appeared with Potocnik at commission hearings in Brussels.

A tax has been proposed concerning plastic bags over the last few months. However, the Conservative environment minister, Richard Benyon, stated the government would not consider the tax. Benyon cited that such a tax would harm the budgets of households struggling during the economic recession. The policy paper by Potocnik has cited a policy that had been backed by the previous Labour government.

The pay-as-you-throw policy would allow local councils to measure, assess, and rebate households who threw out the least waste and recycled the most products. Plastic would undoubtedly be heavily recycled and if households reused plastic items, like bags, then the general waste would be smaller. In effect, households would be financially rewarded for either recycling or reusing their plastic products. If households had too much waste that is not being recycled, then the household would be charged with extra fees. The Colchester Borough Council is using a computer system for their waste collection that can track the amount of non-recycled waste left by the household.

Other countries not within the EU

Are already taking measures on single use plastic shopping bags. The governments of Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and other countries have passed laws requiring biodegradable plastic packaging. They have seen plastic shopping bags accumulate on their shores and clog their waterways, as well as great rafts of plastic packaging material and other debris floating about the seas. Plastic that does not biodegrade tends to also accumulate in deserts. 

Governments may legislate against specific types of plastic packaging as a means to protect soil and water. If plastic shopping bags do not biodegrade, they may sit in landfills or blow about the landscape until they settle. They may then leach chemicals into the soil and groundwater. Plastic bags that are not disposed of properly can be unsightly, raising the risk of reduced tourism revenue in areas that bill themselves as scenic. 

The amount of different environmental controls placed on companies around the world has forced global packaging companies like Keenpac to provide technical help to packaging buyers operating from different contries and where their products may ultimatly end up being sold. When it comes to making a straight choice between materials that are better for the environment versus cost, the question then arises; is there a ‘best of both’?

About the author: Tim writes about environmental issues and how companies can achieve a balance between their environmental obligations and their profit obligations

* Image license: Mikekol; CC BY-SA 3.0