Draft measures, confirmed on Friday (21 November), are expected to be formally approved which will mean member states will have two choices of policy: to ensure that the average annual consumption of bags does not exceed 90 per person by 2019 and 40 by 2025, or ensure that they are not handed to customers free of charge by 2018.

Green MEP Margrete Auken, who is steering the legislation through Parliament, said: “This is an historic moment for all of Europe. For the first time ever we have agreed on ambitious measures to reduce the amount of plastic bag waste in the environment.

“This is good news for the environment and all Europeans who expected the EU to take ambitious action on plastic bags.”

Environment Committee chair Giovanni La Via said: “We are satisfied with the green light for this important dossier. The European Commission’s new approach demonstrates an important sense of responsibility.

“We called upon the Commission to act as a real facilitator between the two legislative institutions. Parliament and Council have done a good job for the Environment and the European citizens.”

Affecting markets

The European plastics industry has expressed concern that a ban on plastic bags could create trade barriers and hinder the EU internal market.

PlasticsEurope executive director Karl-H. Foerster said: “The possibility to ban plastics bags goes against the general principle of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive. It is concerning as it opens the door for Members States to ban not only plastics bags but other types of packaging as well.

“Such an inconsistent political framework that would allow Member States to introduce different regulations on packaging would hinder investments and innovation and would create barriers to trade in packaged goods in Europe.”

The industry does, however, support the imposition of a tax on all carrier bags of any material, as a way to help raise consumer awareness of the waste created by unwanted bags.

Foerster said: “A mandatory charge is the best option as it has been proved to be an effective tool to reduce the over-consumption of lightweight plastic bags. We should understand that plastics are too valuable to be thrown away.

“Charging for bags can have a positive effect on raising consumers’ awareness of the economic value of the resources that have been used to produce the bag.”

UK opposition

Despite Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland already having adopted a 5p carrier bag tax, and a charge in England due to commence in 2015, the UK and a few other member states have opposed binding targets at European level.

Auken said: “As front-running countries have demonstrated, dramatically reducing the consumption of these disposable bags is easily achievable with a consistent policy. Swiftly phasing out these bags is a readily-implementable solution to the pervasive problem of plastic waste in the environment.”

The Times reported today that Scotland’s recently imposed plastic bag tax has resulted in a 90% in the use of bags by shoppers. World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Scotland director Lang Banks welcomed the news, saying it proved that the charge is ‘working well’.

He said: “This is great news for Scotland’s environment and wildlife, and proof that incentives like these can have a really positive impact for our planet.

“We hope it won’t be long before we rival nations like Denmark where, after a charge was introduced in 2003, each person now uses only four plastic bags per year on average – the lowest plastic bag use in Europe.”

Anthony Brimelow, commercial director of polythene manufacturer Duo UK, investigates how technology is helping to ‘green’ polythene, which is often viewed as an environmental ‘L’Enfant terrible’.

–Carrier bag charge: In numbers–

Lois Vallely

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