Three years after the EU demanded single-use plastic ban by 2021... has it worked?

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Teenagers doing beach clean
Single-use plastic often finds its way into the ocean (Getty)

This article is part of Yahoo's 'On This Day' series

‘By 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans,’ one MEP warned as the European Parliament debated a total ban on a range of single-use plastics.

Three years ago today, on 24 October 2018, the European Parliament voted for a total ban on plastic cutlery, cotton buds, straws, drink stirrers and plates.

The law (which came into force in July 2021) also sets out targets for recycling plastic bottles with a 77% collection target by 2025, increasing to 90% by 2029.

In the UK, separate measures banned plastic straws and stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds in October 2020.

Prior to the ban, the UK used 4.7 billion plastic straws per year and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said, ‘We are already a world-leader in this global effort. Our 5p charge on single-use plastic bags has successfully cut sales by 95% in the main supermarkets, we have banned microbeads, and we are building plans for a deposit return scheme to drive up the recycling of single-use drinks containers.'

A man collects plastic bottles from a canal to sell them to recycle factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh on September 19, 2021. Some two billion people around the world, mostly in underserved countries, do not have their waste collected. Since the plastic industry began, annual global plastic production has exploded from some 1.5 million metric tons in 1950 to 359 million metric tons in 2018 according report. (Photo by Rehman Asad/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Since the plastic industry began, annual global plastic production has exploded from some 1.5 million metric tons in 1950 to 359 million metric tons in 2018 (Photo by Rehman Asad/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Others begged to differ over Britain’s position as a ‘leader’ in combating plastic pollution.

Will McCallum, at Greenpeace UK, said: ‘Banning throwaway plastic items like plates and cutlery is a welcome move, but the UK government is simply playing catch up with the EU.

‘After years of talking about being a global leader in this field, the UK government has managed to crack down on a grand total of four single-use plastic items and microplastics. This snail-paced, piecemeal approach isn’t leadership.’

Further measures will ban single-use plastic plates and cutlery in the UK after a public consultation in Autumn 2021 - and a plastic packaging tax will come into force in April 2022.

Bangladesh became the first country to ban plastic bags in 2002, after floods which were linked to plastic waste.

More than 80 countries have since followed suit, with Kenya enacting what has been described as the ‘world’s strictest’ ban on plastic, after floods linked to plastic bags and research which showed that half of cattle had bags in their stomachs.


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Campaigns to ban plastic gained momentum after high-profile TV series such as Sir David Attenborough’s TV series Blue Planet, which aired an episode in 2017 showing an albatross feeding plastic to its chicks.

Disposable polyethylene bags were only patented in 1965 and came into widespread use in the 1980s.

Bags and bottles spread round the world as part of disposable, waste-heavy ‘Western’ lifestyles.

The world produces more than 380 million tonnes of plastic each year, and up to 50% of that is for single use.

It's estimated that 10 million tonnes of plastic is dumped into the oceans each year, according to Plastic Oceans.

Watch: How microplastics are polluting the environment

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