2018 Review: Single-use plastics to be banned in EU

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By Jeremy Wilks
2018 Review: Single-use plastics to be banned in EU

The effort to end plastic pollution in our oceans was one of the key themes of 2018, with European Union lawmakers ending the year with an agreement to ban certain single-use plastics by 2021.

Microplastics can affect microscopic animals' ability to feed and their ability to reproduce

Dr Matt Cole Marine Plastics Research Scientist, Plymouth Marine Laboratory

Belgian MEP Frédérique Ries is behind the law, and told Euronews:  "The balloon sticks, the stirrers, the cotton buds, the straws, the plates are going to be banned. And why are they going to be banned? Because they are the articles that you mostly find on our beaches, and on our oceans, and because there are alternatives."

A central issue in the single-use plastic ban is who is going to pay. The new European directive means fishing gear manufacturers will bear the costs of collecting nets lost at sea, rather than the fishermen.

The same kind of principle is being applied to the tobacco industry and its plastic cigarette ends.

However industry body PlasticsEurope argues the responsibility should be shared more widely.

Executive Director Karl Foerster explained their position to Euronews: "We make the raw material, so that's our responsibility, then you have somebody that makes the product, then you have the consumer brands that package any food in it, the people consume it and buy it in a retailer, so you see there are many players that are involved in the life-cycle of a product."

An estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic waste ends up in the oceans every year. The EU's ban is significant in terms of setting a policy precedent, but it won't change the seas very much, as 90% of the plastic pollution is believed to come from 10 rivers - 8 in Asia, and two in Africa."

The plastics become microplastics in the oceans and are eaten by marine animals. Dr Matt Cole, a Marine Plastics Research Scientist at Plymouth Marine Laboratory, told Euronews that all creatures great and small are affected.

"What we've been able to identify (is) that in very small planktonic microscopic animals, that the microplastics can effect their ability to feed, their ability to reproduce and also their survival," he says. "Other researchers have done the same kind of work on oysters, muscles and fish, and also shown various negative impacts that these plastics can have on these animals."

Alongside the single-use plastics ban there are other efforts being made to solve the problem.

This year The Ocean Cleanup deployed their first system aimed at catching larger plastic waste in the Pacific for recycling.

Journalist • Jeremy Wilks