The European Commission (EC) put forward a new proposal today geared towards reducing the use of single-use lightweight plastic bags in Europe.
The EC cited Denmark and Finland as being the most progressive in the EU when it comes to reducing the use of the bags per capita.
The Danes and Finns use about four lightweight plastic bags per capita annually, while other nations, such as Poland, Portugal and Slovakia, use upwards of 466.
100 billion in circulation
The EC's environment commissioner, Janez Poto?nik, hailed the efforts of some of the EU member states that were aimed at reducing the estimated 98.6 billion plastic bags that were on the EU market, according to statistics from 2010.
“Some Member States have already achieved great results in terms of reducing their use of plastic bags. If others followed suit we could reduce today's overall consumption in the European Union by as much as 80 percent,” Poto?nik said in an EC press release.
Out of the almost 100 billion plastic bags in circulation, the vast majority are lightweight bags, which are less frequently re-used than the more sturdy thicker ones. The lighter, less-durable lightweight plastic bags often elude waste management and end up in the marine environment, where their eventual decay can take centuries.
"We're taking action to solve a very serious and highly visible environmental problem. Every year, more than eight billion plastic bags end up as litter in Europe, causing enormous environmental damage,” Poto?nik said.
An acceptance of the new directive would mean that member states would be able to choose from a number of measures, including implementing charges on the bags, national reduction targets or outright bans.
According to EU figures, there are now some 250 billion plastic particles with a combined weight of 500 tonnes floating about in the Mediterranean Sea alone.
These particles can suffocate sea creatures that ingest them accidentally or mistake them for food. Plastics break into tiny particles, and have a high potential for contaminating soil and waterways as they may contain additives such as persistent organic pollutants.