Climate Crisis and the Environment

The EU plastic ban: what does it mean for our future?

As you may or may not be aware, the European Parliament announced on October 24th that it was banning all single-use plastic. That means that all plastic products which are not reusable will be forbidden. So what does this ban entail, exactly, and what are the consequences of it?

Back in May of this year, it was proposed that the EU ban single-use plastic items, citing that it would help in reducing carbon emissions, ease 150 million tonnes of ocean pollution and the clean-up costs associated, and save consumers billions. The ban caused a furore, and rightly so. It was a huge statement to make and an even bigger commitment for the 28 countries who needed to agree to the ban in the first place.

“a resounding victory for the planet”

Five months later, and the ban has been officially approved by the European Parliament.  The bill, introduced by Belgium’s Frédérique Ries, won the vote 571-53, a resounding victory for the planet. The ban should be in effect by 2021, and the UK is expected to follow through with the measures despite Brexit. Items on the prohibited list will include ‘single-use cutlery, cotton buds, straws and stirrers’ as well as certain polystyrenes and cigarette filters.

It is an exciting step forward in the fight against climate change. But after decades of pollution and increasingly stark forecasts of the effect humanity has had on the planet, will this ban actually work?

“Plastic typically takes decades to break down”

80% of marine pollution consists of single-use plastic products and has serious impacts on both marine life and us. Plastic typically takes decades to break down, and the micro-fragments left behind can often be more harmful than their larger counterparts, invisible in the water, ingested by marine life, including the marine life us humans like to eat.

So what are the benefits?

In a recent report, it was found that just 100 corporations were responsible for 70% of polluting gas emissions since 1988. These companies, such as ExxonMobil, Shell, and the Shenhua Group, have paper-thin commitments to protecting our environment, and this kind of ban might push brilliant new technologies ahead of these giant conglomerates. This could make way for companies which are actively working towards bettering the planet, such as Ecosia, a tree-planting alternative to Google, or individuals like Boyan Slat, the 24-year-old Dutch CEO of The Ocean Cleanup.

The ban would also prevent dangerous levels of plastic, and the by-products produced during their manufacturing, from entering the ecosystem. This will prevent the loss of marine species across the globe, rejuvenate important habitats, and slow down the rapid heating and acidification of the oceans. It will also reduce the chances of humans ingesting the very plastics we throw away. The ban can save the consumer money in the long run, by investing in reusable products instead of repeatedly buying single-use items.

Still, the ban is not all positive in nature. For some, these plastics are a necessary part of life. Those who use single-use plastic for health-related purposes have criticised similar bans for ignoring their needs. There have also been fears over how the ban will cost workers in the plastic sector their jobs, and concerns that the ban will only move the EU’s plastic problem to other countries. Any unintended effects of the ban may also prove disastrous; bans in some parts of the US have led to the public throwing away reusable bags on an unprecedented scale.

“Plastic is a material of the modern age”

Changing opinions can be hard, but changing the policies of governments and companies can be even harder. Plastic is a material of the modern age, and yet we have not modernised the way in which we view and deal with our wasteful and damaging practices.

Plastic, for some, is something that should stay in the past. With innovative technologies now available that easily allow for plastic-free products, and with public outcry growing louder, it seems that the war on plastic is finally gathering speed. It is true that plastic is a convenient product, and that it has revolutionised the way that we live. But if we continue to actively contribute to the destruction of our planet, our lives will be at stake.

Esme Johnson

Featured image courtesy of Richard Black via Flickr. Image license here.

Main article image courtesy of Peter Rosbjerg via Flickr. Image license here.

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