LEAKED: the draft EU laws to counter the plastic pollution crisis

The EU wants to ban several single-use items in an unprecedented effort to counter plastic pollution, according to a leaked paper.

The European Commission is preparing to ban straws, cutlery, cotton buds, plates and balloon sticks, a leaked draft document seen by NGOs and published in POLITICO revealed this week.

The laws, which are expected to be presented before the summer, also include plans to make producers pay for the cost of cleaning up and recycling of items that are commonly found on beaches and in oceans. These include, among others, food packaging, disposable bottles and cups, plastic bags and cigarette butts.

To focus efforts where they are most needed, this Directive aims to address only the most found single-use plastics products, which are estimated to represent around 86% of the single-use plastics found in counts on beaches in the [European] Union,” EU officials wrote in the document.

The Commission also wants EU countries to collect 90 percent of all disposable plastic bottles placed on the market EACH year by 2025.

Once published, the draft laws will be discussed by the European Parliament and member states before being finalised and approved.

The overarching goal of the strategy, which was first announced in January without reference to any specific law, is to significantly reduce plastic pollution.

EU countries dump more than 100,000 tonnes of plastic in the sea every year, posing a threat to human health and wildlife. Half of the plastic litter in the ocean is composed of throwaway items such as bottles and cups for which alternative solutions are already available.

If governments don’t take immediate action there will be more plastic than fish in the sea, said the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in a 2016 report.

NGOs have largely welcomed the unprecedented proposals. Ariadna Rodrigo, of the Rethink Plastic Alliance, told POLITICO:

The Commission has understood the problem, and is introducing measures which we fully support… Given the scale and the urgency of the plastic pollution crisis, we now look forward to the publication and implementation of this proposal and a sea free of plastic pollution.”

But the draft fails to address the presence of hazardous substances in plastic products, according to Margrete Auken, Danish member of the European Green Party. “What is missing is action on the dangerous chemicals found in many plastic products. We need to take toxins out of plastics,” she said in a statement.

Elise Vitali, an expert on chemicals at the European Environmental Bureau, also a member of the Rethink Plastic Alliance, shared similar concerns. “Our daily exposure to toxic chemicals used in food packaging and bottles can lead to chronic diseases. A comprehensive strategy must tackle the effects of plastic on people’s health.”

Studies found that exposure to phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA) – commonly used in food packaging – can affect hormones and disrupt the reproductive system. They also interfere with normal growth and brain development in kids.

Vitali added that it’s necessary to remove these chemicals from plastic so that they are not put back on the market when recycled. “We don’t see them, but they are a threat to human health and undermine plans to improve and boost recycling,” she told META.