The European Commission (EC) adopted on November 4 2013 a proposal that requires EU countries to reduce their use of lightweight plastic carrier bags.
EU countries will be able to choose the measures they find most appropriate, including charges, national reduction targets or a ban under certain conditions, the EC said.
Lightweight plastic bags are often used only once, but can persist in the environment for hundreds of years, often as harmful microscopic particles that are known to be dangerous to marine life in particular.
European Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said: “We’re taking action to solve a very serious and highly visible environmental problem.
“Every year, more than eight billion plastic bags end up as litter in Europe, causing enormous environmental damage.”
He said that some EU countries already had achieved “great results” in terms of reducing their use of plastic bags.
“If others followed suit we could reduce today’s overall consumption in the European Union by as much as 80 per cent.”
Technically, the proposal amends the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive with two main elements. First, EU member states are required to adopt measures to reduce the consumption of plastic carrier bags with a thickness below 50 microns, as these are less frequently reused than thicker ones, and often end up as litter.
Second, these measures may include the use of economic instruments, such as charges, national reduction targets, and marketing restrictions (subject to the internal market rules of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU).
The high reduction rates achieved in some EU member states, through the introduction of charges and other measures, show that results can be achieved through effective action, the EC said.
The proposal follows on from measures taken by individual EU countries and from calls by EU Environment Ministers on the Commission to assess the scope for action at EU level.
It comes after extensive public consultations that found broad support for an EU-wide initiative in this area, according to the EC.
(Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)