You've almost certainly heard noise about banning plastic straws, but have you heard of "Straw Wars"?
That's what the local media is calling a war of words between UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove and Frans Timmermans, First Vice President of the European Commission, over who can ban single-use plastics first: the "slow moving" behemoth European Union or the United Kingdom, which is making its own laws in anticipation of the pending "Brexit" from the EU.
Yesterday, the EU Commission fired the first volley by publishing draft legislation targeting the ten worst single-use plastic (SUP) waste offenders, as well as plastic fishing gear. Together, these represent 70% of the SUP items counted in a survey of marine litter on European beaches.
This is an exciting front in the war on plastics, for which the call to arms is going out across the globe. While many locations are acting to ban plastic bags or plastic straws, the EU Commission's proposed restrictions are wide-ranging. They ban single-use plastics in all the cases for which a reasonable substitute is already available, which includes:
- Cotton bud sticks (with exception for medical purposes),
- Cutlery (forks, knives, spoons, chopsticks),
- Straws (with exception for medical purposes),
- Beverage stirrers,
- Sticks and mechanisms to support balloons (with certain exceptions).
The regulation doesn't stop there either. For SUP items that don't have available replacements, various measures will reduce the waste and discourage inappropriate disposal, as well as ensuring that the costs of such wastes fall on the producers of the single-use plastic items, in line with the EU's strong "polluter pays" principle. Consumption reduction targets will be required for plastic food containers and drinking cups and EU member states will be obligated to collect (and recycle) 90% of SUP drink bottles by 2025.
Special labels will advise consumers of the plastics in sanitary napkins, wet wipes, and balloons. Awareness-raising measures will inform citizens of the urgency of reducing plastic litter, and remind them of the available re-use and waste management options.
The EU Commission is optimistic that the EU Parliament and Council will prioritize this draft and turn it into law before the European elections a year from now.
In the press conference announcing the proposed regulations, Timmermans called out Gove by name and invited others to join in "a race to the top" in #PlasticsStrategy. Timmermans really threw down the gauntlet with the challenge:
"Let's see who does best at this."
The backers of this legislation also recognize that the winner of this race will be a leader in supplying solutions to the rest of the globe as other countries come to realize that action must be taken to prevent plastics from strangling our oceans, and will be saving future generations money that would otherwise be spent on cleaning up the mess. That's certainly a prize worth striving for.
So the race is on and all are invited: May the best country win!