EU member states could be required to drastically reduce use of lightweight plastic carrier bags under proposals adopted by the European Commission.
The proposals would change the Packaging Waste Directive to allow member states to achieve a reduction in any ‘appropriate’ way, including charges, national reduction targets or in some cases a full-on ban.
‘Light use’ plastic bags are defined as those with a thickness below 50 microns.
Environment commissioner Janez Potočnik said: “We’re taking action to solve a very serious and highly visible environmental problem. Every year, more than 8bn plastic bags end up as litter in Europe, causing enormous environmental damage.
“Some member states have already achieved great results in terms of reducing their use of plastic bags. If others followed suit we could reduce today’s overall consumption in the European Union by as much as 80%.”
François de Bie, chairman of the European Bioplastics Association, said: “[The] proposal of the European Commission aiming to reduce the consumption of plastic carrier bags in the EU is an important first step in the direction of a more sustainable economy.”
In 2010 an estimated 98.6bn plastic carrier bags were placed on the EU market, amounting to every EU citizen using 198 bags per year.
There are however wide variations in usage between countries.
In September deputy prime minister Nick Clegg announced a five pence charge for single use carrier bags in England would be introduced by autumn 2015. Small businesses with fewer than 250 employees will be exempt from the charge to ensure that they are not disproportionately burdened by the charges, according to Defra.