In late May, the European Commission put forward a proposal to ban 10 single-use plastic products most often found on Europe’s beaches and seas, which, if approved, would be the most comprehensive legislation yet to tackle plastic pollution. On this occasion, the UN Environment cited a number of European countries which have gone ahead with their own laws to combat plastic pollution.
The most promising examples include:
- The Netherlands: Innovation in waste disposal
The Netherlands is arguably one of the most innovative European countries when it comes to reducing and disposing of plastics. For waste pick-up, residents only pay for the disposal of trash, not recyclables. It’s a simple solution: the more you throw away, the more you pay, which creates a major incentive to recycle.
Additionally, there are plans by the Dutch company Ioniqa to build a state-of-the art bottle recycling facility this coming year. Traditionally bottles must be sorted by colour and can only be recycled a finite number of times, but the new plant will be able to remove all impurities and break the plastics down into raw materials that can be used as new plastic. These innovative technologies make sorting and recycling easier than ever, and Unilever has already signed on as a future customer.
- Norway: Reverse vending machines
Since 1972, the country has used “reverse vending machines” to collect recyclables. Located outside supermarkets, schools and other public places, the machines are part of the nationwide bottle deposit scheme, and Norwegians who turn the bottles in receive a supermarket voucher or cash. 97% of the country’s bottles are now recycled and the system, known as “panteordning”, is so successful that other countries are looking to imitate it.
- Italy: Plastic-free islands
When it comes to recycling rates, Italy consistently ranks high on the list of European countries. But off the Italian coast, the Isole Tremiti archipelago is taking it a step further. As of 1 May 2018, all single-use plastics are banned and the government has said they will impose fines of up to 500 euros for anyone who flouts the rules. The islands, a popular tourist destination in the Adriatic Sea, hope to reduce plastic pollution in their waters, which are rich in marine life and a major tourist attraction.
- Ireland: Plastic bag levy and “shop and drop”
Ireland was one of the earliest countries to tackle the issue of single-use plastic bags. In 2002, the government imposed a 15 cent fee (now 22), on bags, one of the first such taxes. The results were immediate. At the time of the ban, the Irish consumed on average 350 bags per person. By 2012 this had dropped to 14. Revenues from the fees collected have since been used to fund waste management and other environmental programmes in the country.
This method of taxing bags has since been replicated around the world and inspired other countries to take stricter measures by implementing all out bans. While the country has been responsible in dealing with plastic waste, Irish citizens have taken the initiative and want more to be done, most recently organizing a nationwide “shop and drop” day, in which shoppers left plastic packaging behind in supermarkets to convince companies and consumers cut down on unnecessary plastic.
- France: Banned bags and all single-use plastics
While the EU recently proposed a ban on single use plastics, France passed the same law almost two years ago. In September 2016, the French government decided to implement a four-year phase out non-compostable plastic cups, cutlery and plates. By 2020, most forms of single-use plastic will be banned countrywide.
This goes hand in hand with other progressive environmental policies adopted in recent years. Like a growing number of countries, France banned plastic shopping bags in 2014 and most shops now offer paper or reusable alternatives.