Plastic Policy

Will the EU succeed in reducing plastic bags?

Who doesn’t accept a plastic bag at the supermarket when shopping and didn’t bring your own bag? Or when you buy a few tomatoes at the market and you don’t want to carry them loose in your bag. Or when the shop already put’s your groceries in a bag, how can you refuse this? Well, you are not the only one. In the European Union every person uses -on average- 198 plastic bags every year. A bit much isn’t it? Not in every country the amount of used plastic bags is the same of course. For example in Finland and Denmark the average inhabitant uses 4 bags a year, while in Poland this number is 499.

Plastic bags can be reused in art as well, source: Flickr, Creative Commons

Why would it be a problem to use plastic bags? Well, the waste of plastic in general is a problem. A lot of plastic is floating in the seas and the oceans. The light weighted plastic is easily taken by the wind, dropped into the water (rivers, lakes, creeks) and floats to the sea or ocean. When the plastic arrives there it takes a long time before it is degraded, about 15 years. These bags, floating in the sea, group together and form a kind of belt. In the Pacific ocean there are two of these big garbage belts of plastic with a total size twice that of the United States and with a depth of 10 meters. This is also known as ‘the plastic soup‘.

The (micro)plastics in the sea and ocean are eaten by fish and birds. 94% of the birds in the North Sea have plastic in their stomach and that is not healthy for these animals. Furthermore, the fish you eat swim in this waters as well …bon appetit. The Environmental Working Group also wrote an article about this plastic soup that is currently in our ocean (read more).

So it is time to reduce our use of plastic, and the European Commission has made plans for doing this. It has resulted in a plan to diminish the use of plastic bags by approximately 80%. The European Commission adopted a proposal that requires the member states to reduce the use of light weighted plastic, by -for example- the introduction of charges (paying for bags) or marketing restrictions (maximum of bags). It sounds like a very good law to reduce the pressure on our environment, but it is strange that the European Commission doesn’t set a specific target for the member states. It is hard to check if the member states are doing well in reaching this goal. Will for example the reduction of 1% for a member state be enough as long as they say they’re trying?

Colourful plastic bags, source: Flickr, Creative Commons

So are there ways to clear away plastics on the continent? Regular plastic can be recycled or burned. However, through burning of plastic unhealthy gasses are released, so this is not a real solution, and at the moment not all the member states are recycling plastic. Another solution can be found in a new initiative in the world of plastic: the development of bioplastic. This kind of plastic is biodegradable or made of plant material and is less harmful for the environment.

Why would we wait before the EU comes with laws and proposals? When the EU is not fixing it, we, the citizens, will do it. The best thing to do as a responsible inhabitant of the European Union is not only to reduce the use of plastic bags but to quit the use of plastic bags. When you go shopping and you always bring your own bag, you don’t need plastic bags any more. In the future it is cheaper to bring your own bag instead of buying a plastic one, and last but not least it will preserve the healthy future of our planet.

 Written by: Iris Hordijk, Policy Officer on Sustainability