Single use carrier bags: EU passes buck to Member States

EEB Reactions


[Brussels, 4 November 2013] After months of procrastination, the European Commission has finally released a legislative proposal intended to restrict the use of single use carrier bags. At EU level, we still consume around 200 plastic bags per inhabitant every year and 90% of these are single use bags. These single use petroleum based products containing toxic substances are one of the main sources of marine litter and one of the easiest waste streams to reduce. It was high time to regulate on them.

Piotr Barczak of the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) commented “In 2011 the EC received a clear signal from over 70% of respondents to a public consultation that a ban on the distribution of plastic bags is the most favorable way to reduce them[1]. Today we see that the Commission is still reluctant to propose this measure and is instead proposing a weak voluntary scheme.”

The Commission proposal is disappointing as it does not send strong signals towards getting rid of single use carrier bags at the EU level. In fact, the Commission avoids setting any target at EU level and rather passes the buck to national authorities to take action. A weak formulation is proposed: “Member States shall take measures to achieve a reduction in the consumption of lightweight plastic carrier bags on their territory within two years of entry into force of this Directive”. No quantified reduction target is set and no other material but plastic is concerned.

Eight billion plastic bags were littered in the EU in 2010. The fact that this proposal allows for national governments to restrict the placement on the market of those bags is positive. But this mere legal possibility will not resolve the plastic bag issue if it is not grasped and implemented by MS. Italy has already banned non-biodegradable plastic bags, proving such a ban is feasible.”[2] said Piotr Barczak.

Following approval by MS and the EP, this proposal would give MS the opportunity to introduce national level bans which are in line with the public opinion and the UN recommendations. Such measures have been proved feasible and the proposal will remove any legal obstacles for the MS to proceed with those bans.


Piotr Barczak, EEB Waste Project Officer +32 (0) 2289 10 97
Alison Abrahams, EEB Communications Officer +32 (0) 2289 13 09 or +32 (0) 489304962
[1] Results of consultation on packaging and packaging waste;
[2] This would be feasible as the Directive would allow the derogation from article 18 of the Packaging and packaging waste Directive which for years blocked the implementation of such a ban.