The European Parliament has passed a directive aimed at cutting the use of thin, single-use plastic bags by 80 percent by 2019. Roughly eight billion of these bags end up as litter each year, polluting the environment.
Wednesday's EU directive leaves it up to individual member states whether to ban, tax or charge for thin plastic bags. But the aim is to halve their use by 2017, compared to 2010 levels. The final target is to reduce their use by 80 percent by 2019.
The parliament's proposals are aimed at thin, mostly single-use bags only. Thicker, sturdier plastic bag that shops often charge for and that can easily be reused, are not affected.
Some 100 billion plastic bags are used in the EU every year, which amounts to around 200 per person. Eight billion of these carrier bags end up as litter which often end up polluting Europe's seas and killing millions of marine animals a year.
The stomachs of 94 percent of all birds in the North Sea contain pieces or traces of plastic, according to figures from the European Commission.
Denmark, where bags are taxed, boasts the lowest use of single-use plastic bags in the bloc. Meanwhile, 466 bags are used per person in Portugal, Poland and Slovakia, according to Commission figures.
The directive will have to be put to member states, who are likely to start negotiations after the European elections at the end of May.
ng/msh (Reuters, AFP, dpa)