Resource Use

EU member states to reduce plastic bag consumption

The European Commission (EC) yesterday (4 November) adopted a proposed amendment to the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directivethat requires member states to reduce their use of lightweight plastic carrier bags.

According to the EC, more than 8 billion plastic bags end up as litter in Europe every year. It added that althoughlightweight plastic bags are ‘often used only once’, they can persist in the environment for ‘hundreds of years’, often as microscopic particles that can harm marine life.

The proposal follows on from measures already taken by individual member states to reduce plastic litter (such as Wales’s plastic bag levy) and from calls by EU Environment Ministersto assess the scope for action at EU level. It also comes after extensive public consultationsthat found broad support for an EU-wide initiative in this area.

Specific amendments

Under the proposed amends to the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive, member states will be required to reduce the consumption of plastic carrier bags with a thickness below 50 microns (as these were found to be less frequently reused than thicker ones, and often end up as litter), through ‘appropriate’ measures such as bag charges, national reduction targets, and marketing restrictions (subject to the internal market rules of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU).

Commenting on behalf of the EC, Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said: "We're taking action to solve a very serious and highly visible environmental problem. Every year, more than 8 billion plastic bags end up as litter in Europe, causing enormous environmental damage.

“Some Member States have already 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."

If the proposal is approved by the European Parliament, it will enter into force 20 days after publication in the Official Journal of the European Union. From the date of entry into force, member states will have 12 months for transposition, and two years to implement the Directive.

Plastic bags in the EU

According to the EC, in 2010, an estimated 98.6 billion plastic carrier bags were placed on the EU market, which amounts to every EU citizen using 198 plastic carrier bags per year.

Consumption figures of lightweight plastic carrier bags vary greatly between member states, ranging between an estimated four bags in Denmark and Finland, and 466 bags in Poland, Portugal and Slovakia. However, bag charges have been a popular choice for reducing plastic bag use in Europe, and all the devolved governments of the United Kingdom now either have, or are set to implement, charges for plastic bag use.

Wales’s bag levy was deemed a ‘success’ in 2012, after the country saw a 96 per cent drop in bag usage in some retail sectors just 12 months after the levy’s implementation.

Read more about the amends to the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive.