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Politics Bagislation in

Politics Bagislation in Europe – A (good?) case for biodegradables A critical review on legislation addressing single-use plastic carrier bags in Europe No other plastic product has ever created such public debate and worldwide legal action. The single-use plastic bag scores Number One on the virtual list of the “most hated products”, being accused of exceptional overconsumption, and the harm such bags do to the environment and wildlife. Consequently it does not come as a big surprise that the list of countries and cities acting against these bags is long – and still growing fast. Several European member states have regulated shopping bags, with the help of bans, levies and taxes to reduce consumption. In due time the EU is expected to set the framework by adding a specific proposal to its Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive. The bioplastics industry, i.e. the producers of biodegradable polymers and bags, has become a main stakeholder in Bagislation, as it hopes for legal privileges and exemptions. Harald Kaeb, policy expert for bioplastics, has followed the debates and outcomes since the beginning. In this article he gives an up‐to-date overview on the relevant legislation and examines the arguments of various stakeholders against the background of science and waste infrastructure. The perspectives of Bio-Bagislation stand opposed to risks which could affect the credibility and image of the bioplastics industry. The knowledge base needs serious improvement. The author pledges that lacks and gaps should not be ignored. The article is an update of his first article, published three years ago in bioplastics MAGAZINE 06/2011. No doubt, Europeans still use too many plastic bags. However, the number of single-use plastic bags per capita, per annum, varies widely dependent on regional marketing and consumption patterns, ranging from 10–500 per annum in the 28 EU Members States (MS), and 176 on average, according to the European Commission’s (EC) impact assessment published November 2013 [1] (Fig. 1). An estimation of the EU production of plastic carrier bags is illustrated in Table 1. Immediately these figures were disputed by the plastics industry organisation, calling them too high and confusing because of lack of clear definitions and official statistics. It is the vast number of single-use bags which is targeted. Its tonnage (250 kt) is only about 20 % of the total plastic bag market according to the EC assessment. The main objective of Bagislation at EU and MS level is to reduce the total number of single-use plastic bags and thus reduce littering and its harmful effects, for example on the marine eco-system. The replacement of single-use bags by reusable bags and bags-for-life is considered an easy-to-pick fruit by politicians and environmentalists, i.e. easy to achieve and well accepted by most businesses and consumers. In November 2013 the EU Commission had published its proposal [2] to amend the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD), leaving it to MS to choose from diverse economic instruments like taxes or levies on plastic bags. Pricing and thereby increasing their value is generally perceived as the best way to change consumption patterns to less single-use and more reusable bags, e.g. bags-for life. The EC would also Fig. 3: Bagislation often addresses the littering by single-use plastic bags (Photo: Kaeb) 44 bioplastics MAGAZINE [06/14] Vol. 9

Politics By: Harald Kaeb narocon InnovationConsulting Berlin, Germany allow bans for single-use plastic bags to achieve this goal. This would occur in derogation of the Article 18 which obliges MS not to impede the placing on their market packaging which satisfies the provisions of the PPWD. Such exemption can only be justified to tackle serious risks and minimize damages. The EU Bagislation proposal would affect only single-use bags with “a thickness below 50 µm”, which is the proposed criteria to separate singleuse from reusable bags. Heavier plastic bags are not supposed to have negative effects, they are not prone to littering, can be reused more often and recycling is feasible. The EU Parliament (EP) made many amendments to the EC proposal in its first reading on 16 th April 2014 [3]. For instance, the EP wants to set binding reduction targets of 50 % and later 80 %. Because of the benefits it would also allow a 50 % reduction of mandatory charges for biodegradable and compostable single-use plastic bags to incentivize (or at least enable) their use. Some EU countries have biodegradable-preferred policies in place (Table 2). This refers to the EN 13432 standard to qualify such bags, but is also called on to develop a standard for home compostability ensuring that these bags would also biodegrade rapidly enough on private backyard composts. In October 2014 the first tripartite talks took place to prepare an agreement between the EP and the Council of Member States, moderated by the EC. Several MS already had imposed Bagislation and had significantly reduced consumption. They criticized the 80 % target for the EP which they say would neglect their efforts. MS were pointing out their individual situation, especially with regard to the national waste management and recycling policy. It is unlikely that an agreement can be reached by 2014, thus implementation at MS level will not take place before 2017. Estonia Hungary Lativa Lithuania Poland Portugal Slovakia Slovenia Czech Republic Romania Bulgaria Greece Italy EU-27 (average) UK Cyprus Spain Malta Sweden Belgium France Netherlands Germany Austria Ireland Luxembourg Denmark Finland Fig. 1: Plastic bag consumption 2010 [1] kg / Inh · yr 250 200 150 100 50 0 206 182 143 114 101 86 85 100 200 300 400 500 43 42 42 Specific collection 31 30 Multiple Use Plastic Bags Single Use Plastic Carrier Bags NL AT DK LU DE FI BE FR SE IT UK IE SK CZ HU ES PT PL GR BG CY EE LT LV MT RO SI EU Production (Tonnes) Single-use non-biodegradable 239 250 Single-use biodegradable 10 831 Multiple-use 873 993 Total plastic bags produced 1 124 074 EU27 = 48 kg / Inh · yr 13 13 13 7 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 Fig. 2: Implementation of separate collections across the EU (source: [4]) Tab 1: Breakdown of EU plastic carrier bag production 2010 by weight [1] bioplastics MAGAZINE [06/14] Vol. 9 45

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