NGOs push for EU plastic bag ban
Green campaign groups today (17 January) urged the European Commission to respond to the results of an EU consultation by proposing an EU-wide ban on plastic bags. The call, from the groups Seas At Risk and the European Environmental Bureau, comes ahead of a green paper on plastic waste, expected within months.
An unprecedented 15,000 EU citizens responded to the public consultation, which ran between May and August of last year, and 70% responded that an EU ban on plastic carrier bags is needed. Around 500 public authorities, industry associations, NGOs and academic organisations also responded.
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The NGOs said the unexpectedly high level of support for a ban means the Commission will now be under pressure to take action. “Plastic bags are a menace to the marine environment and this consultation has shown that European citizens have had enough of them,” said Chris Carroll of Seas At Risk.
The Commission is considering implementing a ban partly in response to legal uncertainty over whether national bans are compatible with EU law. Italy adopted Europe’s first outright ban on non-biodegradable plastic bags at the beginning of 2011, but this was challenged by the plastics industry.
So far the Commission has not taken action against Italy. But in 2010, France abandoned a similar plan for a ban after a Commission analysis said it would be illegal. Austria has been urging the Commission to clarify the situation and either allow national bans or institute an EU-wide ban.
A Commission official said the consultation will feed into an impact assessment planned for this year. But no decision has been taken on the way forward, and no new action is likely to be proposed in the forthcoming green paper. The NGOs said it would be an embarrassment for the Commission to ignore the issue because there is such strong support for a ban.
National policies on plastic bags vary widely. Denmark, Ireland and Bulgaria charge a tax on plastic bags, while in Belgium a fee is charged that goes to the plastic collection and recycling firm Fost Plus. Retailers in France, Germany, Portugal, Hungary and the Netherlands have begun charging for plastic bags voluntarily. In other countries, including the UK (apart from in Wales), plastic bags are still given away for free.
Industry association PlasticsEurope has said it strongly disagrees with a ban, pointing to studies showing that the environmental impact of the plastic carrier bag over its life-cycle is lower than alternatives if the bags are reused. Retailers also object to bans, saying voluntary action is the best solution. The British Retailers Association complained that the consultation was written with an assumption that the respondents would support a charge or a ban.