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European Commission aims to drastically reduce plastic bag use

The European Commission has unveiled a proposal aimed at drastically reducing the use of plastic bags. Some EU states have already made great strides in this direction.

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EU urges cuts in plastic use

A statement released by Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik on Monday said the plan was to target plastic bags because these were a major source of litter in the 28-member bloc.

"Every year, more than eight billion plastic bags end up as litter in Europe, causing enormous environmental damage," Potocnik said. He added that he believed the European Union could reduce its use of plastic bags by up to 80 percent in the next few years.

The plan is to target the particularly thin bags that are typically provided free of charge by supermarkets because, according to Potocnik, these are "less frequently re-used than thicker plastic carrier bags and more prone to littering."

The proposal, which has to be adopted by each member state as well as the European Parliament to come into force, would leave it up to each individual country to decide what specific measures to take to comply. Among the possibilities mentioned by Potocnik are introducing taxes or compulsory surcharges on such bags, national targets or even outright bans.

Currently, the average European uses around 200 thin plastic bags annually, but broken down on a national level, this figure varies widely between member states. Since Denmark introduced a tax on such bags, their use has dropped to just four per person annually. At the other end of the scale, people in Poland, Slovakia and Portugal each use more than 450 per year. German usage lies somewhere in the middle, at around 70 thin plastic bags per person.

Plastic bags are regarded as a particularly problematic type of waste, as the material doesn't easily break down, meaning they can be around for hundreds of years. They are also particularly damaging to the seas, where wildlife have a tendency to swallow them or become tangled up in them. The European Commission estimates that 94 percent of birds in the North Sea have plastic in their stomachs.

pfd/dr (dpa, epd, Reuters)

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