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European Parliament Votes to Limit Plastic Bag Use

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The European Parliament has voted to limit the use of plastic bags in Europe as part ongoing drives to reduce pollution and improve wider resource efficiency.  Plans include a restriction on handing out plastic bags free of charge as well as limiting the number of bags to 40 per person per year.

Despite the shift by many shops to the use of thicker, reusable plastic bags, many lightweight plastic bags are still in use throughout the EU.  In fact it is these thinner disposable plastic bags that still make up the vast majority of plastic bags used across Europe, even though they are less reusable and therefore become waste mush faster.

The new EU laws will apply to lightweight plastic bags that are thinner than 0.05mm.  Member states will be required to either reduce annual consumption of these bags to no more than 90 per citizen per year by the end of 2019 and no more than 40 per citizen by 2015, or to ensure that no more of these bags are provided to shoppers free of charge by 2018.

The decision follows a number of plastic bag charges that have already been implemented across the UK.  Both Wales and Northern Ireland introduced charges of 5 pence on single-use plastic bags a few years ago, with Scotland following suit at the end of 2014.  England is also expected to introduce a 5 pence levy on single-use plastic bags in October 2015.

The results of these levies have been positive, with both Wales and Northern Ireland reporting a significant reduction in the number of plastic bags being issued.  For example, figures from the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland released at the end of 2014 showed that the use of plastic bags by consumer had fallen nearly 72% since the introduction of the charges.

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