The European Commission has hinted the EU could ban single-use plastics after Michael Gove said there was “some concern” Europe may prevent the UK from outlawing plastic straws.
Frans Timmermans, vice president of the EU’s executive cabinet, told Mr Gove on Twitter: “One step ahead of you. EU legislation on single-use plastics coming before the summer. Maybe you can align with us?”
The announcement came shortly after the Environment Secretary announced he was looking into the legal basis for ditching single-use straws.
Mr Gove told Sky News: “Plastic straws are a scourge. They’re just one example of the ways in which we pollute the oceans and damage marine wildlife. I want to do everything we can to restrict the use of plastic straws and we’re exploring at the moment if we can ban them.”
He added: “There is some concern that EU laws mean that we can’t ban straws at moment, but I’m doing everything I can to ensure that we end this scourge and I hope to make an announcement shortly.
“Straws are not just another example of plastic waste – they can be lethal... I believe we need to act and I’m exploring now what we can do as quick as possible within the law.”
But Dr Viviane Gravey, lecturer in European politics at Queens University Belfast, told The Independent Mr Gove’s comments were “basically nonsense”.
“It is especially nonsense for just that example of plastic straws,” she said. ”We know that the Scottish government – within the EU – is saying that they are going to ban them by the end of 2019. That means during the transition or implementation period... still while being bound by all EU law.”
Mr Gove has previously said he was “haunted” by seeing images of plastic pollution in the oceans on the BBC series Blue Planet II.
The move comes just a day after official figures revealed the number of straws purchased by Parliament has doubled in the last three years.
Data from the House of Commons Commission showed the number of straws bought had gone up from 6,000 in 2014-15 to 12,250 in 2016-17.
On Wednesday, Mr Timmermans told a conference there is “urgent work to do” following China’s decision to limit imports of plastic waste.
“We will find ways to reuse and recycle more plastic and avoid microplastic leakage,” he said.
During an announcement on EU plans to ensure all plastic is recyclable or reusable by 2030, Mr Timmermans specifically mentioned plastic straws as something that needed to be outlawed.
“If children knew what the effects are of using single-use plastic straws for drinking sodas, or whatever, they might reconsider and use paper straws or no straws at all,” he told The Guardian.
“We are going to choke on plastic if we don’t do anything about this. How many millions of straws do we use every day across Europe? I would have people not use plastic straws any more. It only took me once to explain to my children. And now... they go looking for paper straws, or don’t use straws at all.”
Between eight and 12 million tons of plastic are dumped in the world’s seas each year. If current levels of pollution continue, there will be more plastic than fish in the seas by 2050, according to statistics from the United Nations.
But a recent survey revealed UK families are now making concerted efforts to cut their plastic use by returning to traditional shopping methods.
The study found that 93 per cent of families said they were trying to use fewer plastic items. However, only 17 per cent said they were able to afford pricier alternatives.
Dubbed “granny shopping”, three in five families said they bought loose fruit and veg, not pre-packed, while 44 per cent were once again choosing washing powder in cardboard boxes instead of pre-wrapped capsules in a plastic tub.
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