A deal has been thrashed out by the Council of Ministers, European Parliament and European Commission to reduce the use of plastic bags across Europe.
Under the proposals, Member States would be able to choose between two policy options.
The first would be to take measures to ensure that average yearly consumption of lightweight plastic bags thinner than 50 microns does no exceed 90 lightweight bags per citizen by 2019 and 40 by 2025.
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Alternatively, by 2018 Member States must ensure that plastics bags are not handed to shoppers free of charge.
Danish green MEP Margrete Auken, who is steering the legislation through the European Parliament, said: “This is an historic moment for all of Europe. For the first time ever we have agreed on ambitious measures to reduce the amount of plastic bag waste in the environment. This is good news for the environment and all Europeans who expected the EU to take ambitious action on plastic bags.
“As front-running countries have demonstrated, dramatically reducing the consumption of these disposable bags is easily achievable with a consistent policy. Swiftly phasing out these bags is a readily-implementable solution to the pervasive problem of plastic waste in the environment.”
The European Environmental Bureau, which represents businesses and trade associations across Europe, welcomed the deal.
Its policy officer on waste Piotr Barczak said: “This is good news for Europe and the environment. In 92 per cent of cases, these bags are used only once and then become waste. They have little economic value but a highly detrimental and visible impact on the environment. Thanks to this agreement, Europe will see a big drop in plastic bag littering.”
The European Environmental Bureau said that it is disappointed that a ban on oxo-degradable bags has been dropped from the agreement following opposition from the UK and some smaller Member States.
It also added that it hopes European institutions will show their support for the Waste Package that European Commission President Juncker has placed under review until 16 December.