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European parliament approves sweeping ban on single-use plastics update
European Union lawmakers have voted to ban a range of single-use plastic items, in a bid to tackle waterway pollution. Members of the European Parliament approved draft legislation on Oct. 24 that aims to prevent plastic items such as straws, cotton swabs, and disposable plastic plates and cutlery from fouling waterways and harming marine wildlife. "It's disfiguring our beaches, it's killing our oceans, it's killing animals, it ends up in fishes' stomachs and kills them and at the end of the day, it ends up inside our bodies. There's an impact on human health," said Frederique Ries, the EU lawmaker who initially proposed the bill in May. Under the proposal, 10 single-use plastic products, with readily available alternatives, would be barred by 2021. EU states would be obliged to recycle 90 percent of plastic bottles by 2025, and producers would be required to help cover the costs of waste management. Parliament members backed the proposals with a 571-53 majority. "It is essential in order to protect the marine environment and reduce the costs of environmental damage attributed to plastic pollution in Europe, estimated at 22 billion euros by 2030,” said Ries, who posted on Twitter that the successful vote was "a victory for our oceans, for the environment and for future generations." "We have adopted the most ambitious legislation against single-use plastics," she said, according to a European Parliament statement. "It is essential in order to protect the marine environment and reduce the costs of environmental damage attributed to plastic pollution in Europe, estimated at 22 billion euros [$25 billion] by 2030." The draft rules still must be approved by member states before they have the force of law. "It is up to us now to stay the course in the upcoming negotiations with the council, due to start as early as November," Ries said. Plastic products make up 80 percent of all marine litter, according to the European Commission, and the products covered by the new restrictions constitute 70 percent of all marine litter items. The World Economic Forum estimates that there are about 150 million tons of plastic in the world's seas. The EU's own research says about 150,000 tons of plastic are tossed into European waters each year. The bloc also recycles only a quarter of the 25 million tonnes of plastics waste it produces annually. If the proposed legislation becomes law, it will bring the EU into the lead in tackling the growing plastic pollution crisis. Europe's environment commissioner Karmenu Vella said on Oct. 24, "Today, we are one step closer to eliminating the most problematic single-use plastic products in Europe. It sends a clear signal that Europe is ready to take decisive, coordinated action to curb plastic waste and to lead international efforts to make our oceans plastic-free.” Some EU member states and industry representatives have voiced concern that the new rules contain ambiguity and might be too difficult to implement. The European Plastics Converters sent out a press release, saying that "the proposal represents a symbolic attack on a category of poorly defined products, which leads to confusion of end users." “The proposal is a meaningful addition to existing legislation and strategies; unfortunately, however, it remains vague regarding sustainable alternatives,” said François de Bie, Chairman of European Bioplastics (EUBP). “The proposal specifically foresees the substitution of currently used single-use products by ‘readily available, more sustainable materials,’ but finding these substitutes may not be possible," said the EUBP.