An ocean of plastic to eradicate

02'47" 31/03/2015
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Find yourself swimming in plastic carrier bags? While some countries are steaming ahead in reducing use, others remain big consumers. Find out how Europe is incentivising change.
The Plastic bag, an everyday object. On average, each person in Europe uses around 190 plastic bags per year. Of these 100 billion bags, 8 billion end up in lakes and rivers, or in the countryside and on roads.

It takes 5 seconds to manufacture this bag, 5 minutes to use it and 500 years for it to fully decompose. For example, here in the North Sea, 94% of the birds have plastic in their stomachs. Marine animals and birds mistake the debris for food and ingest it. Seals, turtles, and various species of birds are among the unlucky victims. To combat this scourge the EU Parliament is currently imposing a drastic reduction in the use of plastic bags. But Europeans use different amounts.

In Denmark and Finland, each person uses just 4 bags per year, whereas in Poland, Portugal and Slovakia the usage is 100 times higher.

For some time now, certain countries have seen a huge reduction in plastic bag use thanks to a powerful incentive... A mandatory tax which has put an end to free plastic bags. The European Parliament has adopted this idea and it will now be implemented across the European Union.  

Gone are the days of free bags for every purchase. It’s time for environmentally-friendly solutions… European legislation now targets lightweight plastic carrier bags with a thickness of below 50 microns. These single-use bags make up the majority of carrier bags used in the EU. There will either be a mandatory charge from 2018, or a cap of up to 90 bags per citizen by 2019, reduced to 40 by 2025. An exception is the very lightweight bags of a thickness of less than 15 microns, used on fruit and vegetable aisles.

However, hygiene standards make it difficult to stop the use of these bags. So what can be done? Europeans are examining the options.

The same applies to oxo-biodegradable bags. They are a con as although these bags break down into small fragments, it doesn’t change the time it take s for them to fully decompose. This will likely end up in the great plastic ocean known as the trash vortex, discovered in the 1990s. It is an area in the North Pacific which draws in debris, trapped by currents, like a whirlpool of waste.