Postcard from... Brussels


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The Independent Online

People across Britain are already accustomed to their shopping bills being a few pence more expensive if they forget their reusable supermarket bag. And yesterday all other nations across the European Union signed up to legislation to introduce similar measures, as part of a drive to drastically reduce the number of plastic bags in circulation by 2025.

A normal plastic bag can last for hundreds of years before it is fully degraded, causing particular damage if they end up at sea where they can threaten marine life with strangulation and poisoning.

The new rules first approved by the European Parliament and rubber-stamped by the 28 EU member states yesterday target standard single-use plastic bags, which are defined by how thin they are, therefore how likely they are to be reused. Nations can either impose charges per bag, or implement other measures which result in a verifiable reduction in plastic bag use per person.

The average citizen of the European Union currently uses around 190 lightweight plastic bags per year. The aim is to reduce that to 40 bags by 2025.

Despite Britain already vowing to introduce mandatory 5p charges for plastic bags, the government wanted a certain type of bag known as an “oxo-biodegradable” bag to be excluded from the law, arguing that some studies have shown they were more environmentally-friendly.

In the end, a compromise was reached, with member states agreeing to exclude them for the time being pending more comprehensive scientific studies.