The European Union Parliament has voted to ban single-use plastics such as straws, cotton buds and disposable cutlery and crockery by 2021. Members of European Parliament (MEP) voted 560 to 35 for the ban to come into effect in all European Union (EU) member states to stop the use of single-use plastics as they make up the bulk of plastic pollution in the Earth’s oceans. In the case of the United Kingdom, it would have to comply with this new ruling if the Brexit transition is delayed or extended.

The directive will be published in the EU rulebook after clearing some formalities. EU member states will then have two years to carry out the directive after its publication in the EU rulebook.

Each EU member state will be required to establish new measures to cut down on the use of single use plastics such as plastic food containers and drink lids, oxy-degradable plastics, disposable crockery and cutlery and paper cups and wet wipes which contain a layer of plastic to make them waterproof.

Unlike biodegradable plastics which will break down and decompose into carbon dioxide, water and other naturally occurring minerals, thereafter mixing seamlessly back into the earth, oxy-degradable plastics merely fragment into smaller plastic particles and finally microplastics. There is also no evidence that these microplastics will biodegrade “within a reasonable timeframe”.

Besides requiring EU member states to switch to biodegradable alternatives by 2021, the directive also requires plastic bottles to be made of 25 percent recycled material by 2025 and 30 percent recyclable material by 2030. The directive also sets a target for 90 percent of all plastic bottles to be gathered for recycling by 2029.

The directive was spearheaded by Frans Timmermans, a European commission vice-president, who expressed his views after the vote in Strasbourg on Wednesday, March 27, 2019.

“Today we have taken an important step to reduce littering and plastic pollution in our oceans and seas. Europe is setting new and ambitious standards, paving the way for the rest of the world,” said Timmermans.

The directive will also target fishing companies to pay for fishing nets that are lost and dumped in the ocean and tobacco companies to pay for the costs of collecting waste cigarette stubs that are thrown away.

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