Officials in Brussels announced last week that the European Union is taking steps to eradicate plastic waste, with a goal set to make all packaging recyclable or reusable by 2030. The commission's vice-president, Frans Timmermans, told The Guardian it's past time to get rid of "single-use plastics that take five seconds to produce, you use it for five minutes and it takes 500 years to break down again."
He continued, “If we don’t do anything about this, 50 years down the road we will have more plastic than fish in the oceans … we have all the seen the images, whether you watch [the BBC’s] Blue Planet, whether you watch the beaches in Asian countries after storms."
Timmermans also seems to think there's a gap in education and awareness of the mindless use of plastic that won't degrade for centuries.
If children knew what the effects are of using single-use plastic straws for drinking sodas, or whatever, they might reconsider and use paper straws or no straws at all," he said. "We are going to choke on plastic if we don’t do anything about this. How many millions of straws do we use every day across Europe? I would have people not use plastic straws any more. It only took me once to explain to my children. And now, they go looking for paper straws, or don’t use straws at all. It is an issue of mentality.”
The impetus is not entirely a concern for the environment; China recently announced that will no longer be accepting "foreign waste" from European countries.
“It’s urgent because of the change in the Chinese position. We can’t export these plastics any more to China. The knee-jerk reaction is that we will have to burn or bury it here. Let’s use this opportunity to show we can also recycle it here," said Timmermans.
China accepted 95 percent of Ireland's waste in 2017, just for starters. In response to that news, the country produced its first official national list of what can be recycled.
The European Union is mostly focusing on single use plastics in their plan, especially the aforementioned straws, plus colorful bottles, lids and coffee stirrers, cutlerym and takeaway packaging.
They're also considering a tax on plastic use, similar to the proposed "latte levy" in the U.K. on coffee cups. People would have to pay extra to use plastic bags and packaging. The EU has also stated they want to encourage local government to facilitate making public drinking water easily accessible in European streets to reduce the purchase of bottle water. There is still work to do in formulating a plan that can be widely distributed, but the goal is in place.