In a stunning vote of 571 to 53, the European Parliament overwhelming voted to ban the top 10 single use plastics that most often end up in our oceans.
This ban will include the top 10 plastic items found in the oceans and beaches today, and will also include the plastics found in many fishing nets and gear. Collectively, this ban represents roughly 70% of the marine plastic litter found on European beaches. Items will include single use plastics such as straws, food containers, drink cups, cutlery, plastic bags, wet wipes, sanitary towels, packets, wrappers, and fishing nets and gear.
How quickly will the ban occur?
The ban will take effect in 2021 for most items. However, for those plastic items without practical alternatives, increased mandatory recycling rates and/or usage reduction rates will be enforced by 2025. For example, 90% of beverage bottles will be recycled, and single use burger and single use sandwich packaging will be reduced by at least 25%.
How much will it cost?
To answer this question, it’s important to look at both the costs of the ban to manufactures, businesses, and consumers while also analyzing the reduction in current environmental costs in marine litter as well as the health costs incurred to the general public by microplastics both in the water that we drink as well as the fish that we eat.
Let’s review the numbers.
It’s important to note that both costs as well as benefits would largely be derived from the following categories: market restrictions, consumption reductions, separate collection, product design, extended producer responsibility, labeling, and awareness raising.
According the European Parliament’s cost vs. benefit analysis by 2030, the costs would include:
€3.2 billion decrease in producer turnover, €0.6 billion in information campaign costs, €1.4 billion in business compliance and commercial washing/refill scheme costs, and €0.5 billion in waste management costs.
A whopping total cost of 5.7 billion Euros, or $6.5 Billion US Dollars by 2030 to implement the ban – sounds crazy expensive, right?
Well until you look at the benefits, reduction in health costs, as well as the full-time jobs created by this new industry across of Europe.
The savings for consumers is calculated at approx. 6.5 billion – this alone offsets the entire cost of implementing the ban!
But it doesn’t end there. When combing decreases in greenhouse gas emissions, reduction in external costs, and an additional 4,000 full time job equivalents, estimates show an additional combined savings of another €11.1 billion!
It’s important to note that the vast majority of plastic manufacturing occurs outside of the European Union – mostly originating in China and the rest of Asia, so it’s unlikely to have dramatic impacts on Europe’s labor market.
It’s also crucial to understand that we are not really taking into account the health benefits that we will all receive by having less plastics in the ocean, and our bodies, over time.
Plastic in the ocean, over time, breaks down into microplastics that are mistaken by food by marine wildlife.
In addition to harming marine wildlife, we also ingest those same plastics through the fish and other seafood we consume.
Even if you are vegetarian or vegan, it’s an increasingly global health issue that’s nearly impossible to escape.
A study by SUNY (State University of New York) in Fredonia has concluded a large percentage of microplastics in tap water. Worse, they estimated even double the amount of microplastics in bottled water! According to the study, over 90% of bottled water is contaminated with plastic!
The study has even gotten the attention of the WHO (World Health Organization), and they have launched a review into studying the affect of plastic consumption on human health.
The study of microplastics consumption and how it affects our bodies is actually something relatively new, so we really don’t know just how bad it is and what all of the implications are.
The truth is, there have been virtually no peer reviewed scientific studies on this topic even though it’s something that has been on environmentalists, policymakers, and scientists radar for over a decade or more.
Common sense would tell us that microplastic could be a contributing factor to dozens of health issues- ranging from cancer, to gastrointestinal issues, to colon issues, to even respiratory issues since so much of the microplastics are actually airborne.
So worldwide, by banning single use plastic, by reducing consumption of other plastics, and enforcing aggressive recycling rates of bottles etc. – we really think the benefits far outweigh the costs, and we really feel that Europe got this one right.
One of the influences of the EU’s proposal of this legislation was a European Parliament written in May 2017 named “Plastics in a Circular Economy – Opportunities and Threats.”
In this briefing, environmentalists and policy makers go into more detail and envision a future of something much bigger than the recent EU single use plastics ban.
They envision a future where the vast majority of plastics are secondary, and those plastics that are not practical to recycle or reuse will be made primarily of bio-plastics that can be made from vegetable oils and are significantly more biodegradable than conventional products.
We can take the concept of a circular economy for plastics and apply this and connect it to plastics in our clothing.
As we have mentioned in many articles on our blog, due to its durability, inexpensive cost to produce, and because it doesn’t need farmland to produce – plastic based polyester is now the word’s leading fiber (overtook cotton in 2002) in the vast majority of our clothing, and experts estimate that over 95% of all future clothing fiber production will consist of polyester.
And what’s pretty amazing as how relatively cheap and easy it is to recycle and reuse polyester.
With a small additional cost of only 10-15% for recycled polyester fabrics vs. traditional polyester fabrics, we believe that polyester should absolutely be a part of the discussion for a circular economy for plastics.
Due to the fact that many recycled polyester fabrics and garments can be made directly from recycled water bottles – it seems like an ideal way to kill two birds with one stone.
And recycled polyester garments can be recycled. Again. And Again. And Again.
Creating a closed loop system – forever.
Legislation for polyester coming any time soon?
I wouldn’t hold your breath (and in the United States, we haven’t even gotten to single use plastic yet).
However, even if your representative isn’t considering a vote in your city or country, you can still vote with your WALLET and support the thousands of sustainable companies all over the globe!