International Plastic Bag Free Day: New Surfrider Europe’s report


International Plastic Free Day: New Surfrider Europe’s report calls on EU Member States to remove exemptions to ensure plastic bag pollution is fully reduced 

A plague to the Ocean  

Plastic bags are a plague to the ocean and environment. More than 100 billion bags were used in Europe in 2010 before a European Directive was adopted to limit their consumption. A source of plastic pollution, plastic bags are responsible for dramatic impacts on the ocean, global economies and carry major risks to our health. Plastic bags are one of the most commonly found items on the beach. They threaten aquatic ecosystems, can injure many marine species by hindering their mobility and even kill them as they mistake them with their usual food. Plastic bags are for example the most commonly found synthetic item in sea turtles’ stomachs. 

EU legislation to reduce plastic bag pollution 

In April 2015, the first European Directive to allow for the restriction of a single use plastic item – single use plastic carrier bags - over a whole continent was adopted. The Directive requires national governments to take measures to achieve a sustained reduction in the consumption of lightweight plastic carrier bags in their territory. Options given to Member States were many and vary by ambition level: from national reduction targets, taxes or levies to bans of all lightweight carrier bags or some of them. The Directive also requires Member States to ensure that their annual consumption of lightweight plastic carrier bags does not exceed 90 single use plastic bags per person by the end of 2019, representing a 50% reduction compared to the average number of plastic bags used by a European in 2010. Despite this huge step forward, the 2019 Surfrider Europe Ocean Initiatives environmental report still found plastic bags to be in the Top 5 most collected waste items.  

International Plastic Bag Free Day 2020: Make it right! 

On this 11th Plastic Bag Free Day, 5 years after the European Directive on plastic bags was adopted, we’re still waiting for the first data to be reported by Member States to assess if the target of reducing the average plastic bag use in Europe by half has been achieved.  

On this special day, Surfrider Foundation Europe releases a report called Make it Right. Time for Europe to act against plastic bag pollution compiling and assessing the actions undertaken and exemptions granted by the 27 EU Member States of the European Union to fight single use plastic bag pollution. The report is supported by the Rethink Plastic Alliance and has been made possible thanks to the contributions of the Break Free From Plastic Movement in Europe. The report shows that while all countries have now transposed the Directive, results fall short of expectations in some Member States which have either chosen the least ambitious policy options or have granted many exemptions from their measures and limited their scope. 

Calling for more ambition 

With Rethink Plastic, Surfrider Foundation Europe calls on Member States to adopt ambitious measures to reduce the consumption of all single use plastic bags in their territory, preferably through a ban. Member States must assume their responsibility in preventing disposable plastic bags from ending up in our ocean and ensure proper control of the measures adopted. Member States are asked to remove exemptions on biodegradable and bio-based plastic bags and adopt measures applying to all bags –including very lightweight plastic bags - in all shops and outdoor markets. 

The Plastic Bag Directive has undoubtably proven successful in reducing plastic bag use and pollution in instances where strong political will has effectively adopted, implemented and enforced ambition measures. Yet, we are already looking at the next 2021 deadline set in the Directive to revise the text and propose more ambitious policy response to the use of plastic bags in Europe. European governments should make every effort to put their levers of action towards the service of a ban on plastic bags and of a comprehensive set of measures to tackle all plastic bags in line with the Single use Plastic Directive adopted last year. Efforts must increase to stop plastic bag pollution for good and certainly be extended to other areas and sources of pollution. 

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