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MEPs vote for EU plastic bag reduction targets

The European Parliament Environment Committee has backed plans to reduce consumption of plastic bags by 80% by 2019.

An interim target of a 50% reduction by 2017 has also been approved. The proposals apply to ‘single use’ lightweight plastic bags with a thickness of less than 50 microns.

The proposals say members states should take measures “such as taxes, levies, marketing restrictions or bans” to ensure shops do not provide free plastic bags free of charge, except for very light ones used to wrap loose foods such as raw meat, fish and dairy products.

MEPs voted through the measures by 44 to 10, with six abstentions.

Danish MEP Margrete Auken, part of the Greens/European Free Alliance, put the recommendations to the committee.

They will now be submitted to the full Council of the European Union in April.

Auken said: “MEPs have voted for EU legislation that would deliver a significant and swift reduction in single-use plastic bags.

“As front-running countries in the EU and beyond have demonstrated, dramatically reducing the consumption of these plastic bags is easily achievable with a coherent policy. Swiftly phasing-out these bags is a very low-hanging fruit on the list of solutions to the pervasive problem of plastic waste in the environment.”

She added: “MEPs also supported provisions to ensure mandatory pricing of plastic bags in the food sector, as well as a strong recommendation to do so in the non-food sector, too. Putting a price on single-use bags is a proven and highly effective policy tool for reducing their excessive consumption.”

Auken’s report said member states should set up separate collection for biowaste in order to facilitate a high level of composting and recycling of biowaste, including bio-based compostable carrier bags.

This reignited complaints by the Oxo-biodegradable Plastics Association (OPA) that ‘compostable’ bags – of type EN13432 promoted in the report – have ‘no economic nor ecologic benefits’.

OPA says these will not solve litter problems as they “will not degrade in natural conditions”.

But the European Bioplastics industry membership body welcomed the committee’s proposals on EN13432 bags.

Chairman François de Bie said: “We are very glad to see provisions that acknowledge the important contribution that biodegradable and compostable plastic bags can make to enhanced biowaste collection across the EU.

“Biodegradable bags that are EN13432 compliant can help member states to reduce landfilling by diverting biowaste from landfill to organic recycling.

“We now call on the Council of the European Union to support the provisions taken up by the Parliament and recognise the value that biodegradable plastic bags offer to European society”.

Auken’s report also said it was ‘misleading’ to label oxo-biodegradable plastic as ‘biodegradable’ as the material fragments into small particles.

It said: “Fragmentation transforms visible littering of items such as plastic carrier bags into invisible littering by secondary microplastics. This is not a solution to the waste problem, but rather increases pollution of the environment by those plastic materials.”

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