Single-use plastics ban across EU member states by 2021

By: Clare Fischer
Date posted: 28 March 2019

A ban on a whole range of single-use plastic items will come into force by 2021 following a vote approving a new, wide ranging law in the European parliament.

Plastic straws found on beachclean
© Natasha Ewins

The directive was a direct result of monitoring of beach litter over a number of years and showing that measures needed to be taken to tackle it

Dr Laura Foster,
MCS Head of Clean Seas

Among those items set to be banned are single-use plastic cutlery (forks, knives, spoons and chopsticks), plastic plates, straws, cotton bud and balloon sticks. Oxo-degradable plastics and food containers and expanded polystyrene cups are also included in the list.

According to the European Commission, more than 80% of marine litter is plastics. The products covered by this new law constitute 70% of all marine litter items. Almost 30% of the litter found during the MCS Great British Beach Clean last September came from the public – including these items, whilst almost 50% of litter was ‘non-sourced’ - that’s stuff that’s too small to be identified but much of which will almost certainly have originally started life as many of the items on this list.

Due to its slow rate of decomposition, plastic builds up in seas, oceans and on beaches. Plastic has been found in marine species – such as sea turtles, seals, whales and birds, but also in fish and shellfish, and therefore into the human food chain.

Dr Laura Foster, MCS Head of Clean Seas, says it’s great news to see the overwhelming approval by the parliament on the single use plastic directive: “The directive was a direct result of the monitoring of beach litter over a number of years which clearly showed that measures needed to be taken to tackle it. It also highlights the value of the data collected by our volunteers and how this can result in huge changes. As the UK discusses the future of our relationship with the EU we want to see the other home nations - England, Wales and Northern Ireland, follow Scotland’s commitment to uphold new EU environment legislation.”

Member states will also have to achieve a 90% collection target for plastic bottles by 2029, and plastic bottles will have to contain at least 25% of recycled content by 2025 and 30% by 2030.

The agreement also strengthens the application of the polluter pays principle, in particular for tobacco, by introducing extended responsibility for producers. This new regime will also apply to fishing gear, to ensure that manufacturers, and not fishermen, bear the costs of collecting nets lost at sea.

Lead MEP Frédérique Ries (ALDE, BE) said: “This legislation will reduce the environmental damage bill by €22 billion - the estimated cost of plastic pollution in Europe until 2030.

Europe now has a legislative model to defend and promote at international level, given the global nature of the issue of marine pollution involving plastics. This is essential for the planet.”

Actions you can take

  1. Join a beach clean
  2. Help us stop the plastic tide
  3. Organise a beach clean
  4. Download the Great British Beach Clean Report 2019
  5. Visit the beachwatch website

Did you know?…

Over time, one plastic bottle bobbing along in the ocean can break down in to hundreds of tiny plastic pieces

On UK beaches levels of litter have doubled in the past 20 years

To date, our beach cleans have removed over 11 million pieces of litter


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