Plastic bags: local government hopes for outright ban dashed as EU leaders agree compromise

The Committee of the Regions expressed disappointment as EU Member States and MEPs came to an agreement which would ensure that by 2019 no more than 90 plastic bags per person per year will be used. The Committee – which represents Europe’s local and regional authorities – had hoped for an outright ban of free plastic bags by 2020, compulsory EU targets for all Member States and the introduction of charges for all carrier bags to ensure an 80% reduction.

After the new European Commission considered pulling the entire package to reduce plastic bag usage, speaking on behalf of the Committee Cllr. Linda Gillham said, “There were hopes that governments would use the opportunity to rid Europe of the unnecessary over-use of plastic bags once and for all. But as the European Commission was close to pulling the plug on the entire proposal, we are relieved – as this agreement is better than no agreement. The proposal to cut the average number of lightweight plastic bags each year from 198 to 90 per person by 2019 is a compromise. It is a recognition that the environmental, social and economic consequences of the 100 million tons of plastic bags thrown away each year in Europe are illogical and unacceptable”.

The Committee of the Regions argued that it would have been better to introduce both binding targets and oblige Member States to use economic instruments, such as introducing charges and taxes, rather than giving them the choice between the two options. Cllr Gillham, from UK’s Runnymede Council, who was responsible for leading the Committee’s position on the issue, also criticised the decision to exclude oxo-biodegradable plastic in the new EU proposals after resistance from the UK government. “Oxo-biodegradable plastic is not fully biodegradable and should be banned. We must remember that it is communities and local authorities that are ultimately responsible for cleaning up the mess. 8% of all throw-away plastic bags end up in our seas: it is our environment and local authority resources that will pay the price for continuing to use plastic that is not 100% biodegradable”.