The Malta Independent 17 August 2019, Saturday

The war on plastic

David Casa Tuesday, 23 April 2019, 09:44 Last update: about 5 months ago

Single-use plastics are a huge problem for our environment. The European Parliament has last December voted overwhelmingly in support of a wide-ranging ban on single-use plastics by 2021.  This is ambitious, but necessary. In her speech at the COP24, the inspirational 16 year old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg said, ‘If I have children... maybe they will ask why you didn’t do anything while there still was time to act.’

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In its proposal, the European Commission smartly advised efforts to be focused on reducing the top ten products found on beaches and in the ocean, in addition to lost and abandoned fishing gear, another big source of plastic pollution that accounts for 27% of all beach litter according to the Commission. Malta has many beautiful beaches, so we have a personal stake to ensure that the beaches and waters of the EU are protected.

The aim of this legislation is to completely ban single-use plastic products where alternatives are readily available and affordable like non-biodegradable straws and other materials. There is also a target to have all bottles made with at least 25% recycled plastic by 2025, a goal I believe we can meet. Without a second thought we are using these products every single day, ranging from straws and coffee stirrers to plastic bags and water bottles. It is in fact disheartening to consider the excessive amounts of plastic packaging used in our daily food consumption, be it at take-outs or at supermarkets. This is waste that could easily be reduced or alternatively made from recyclableor biodegradable and reusable materials. We need to move away from this excessive use of plastic in our daily life.

Although some plastic items can be recycled, an astounding amount end up in the environment, specifically in our oceans and other bodies of water. The presence of plastic in the oceans not only harms wildlife, but can subsequently make its way into our food and water supply.

Plastics are not biodegradable, but they are able to degrade into smaller particles known as microplastics. Plastic bags and Styrofoam can take thousands of years to decompose, contaminating the soil and water in the process. Plastic bags are notorious for blocking waterways and ending up in the airways and stomachs of many species.

The UN found evidence that toxic chemicals added during the manufacture of plastic transfer to animal tissue, which opens up the door for the toxins to eventually enter the human food chain. Though there is much uncertainty surrounding the specific effects of the microplastics and toxins entering the bloodstream, it seems likely that nothing positive could come from such a thing. Additionally, if plastic waste is burned, as is often the case in poor countries for heat or cooking, toxic emissions are produced. Thus for our health, reducing the amount of plastic produced in the EU is of utmost importance.

I’m confident this legislation leads us down a path where our environment is healthier, and as a result, so are EU citizens, but it is still not enough, and we must aim higher and continue to make further improvements.We are strongly encouraging member states to reduce plastic food containers and drink cups wherever possible.

Member states can fulfill all of these requirements, but what’s truly important for guaranteeing that advancements are made in reducing single-use plastics is making sure the public is aware of the steps that must be taken. Part of this is requiring clear labelling on products that need to be disposed of properly, so the consumer is aware of the environmental impact if they do not. Additionally, other awareness raising measures should be taken to increase the public’s knowledge on the damage plastics have on the environment.

These changes don’t just benefit us from a health standpoint, but an economic one as well. By reducing the amount of plastic that ends up in the environment, we can stop from creating damages that would cost around €22 billion by 2030.

We must protect the environment and the health of our citizens from the damage single-use plastics cause. By reducing our reliance on these products, we can prevent the equivalent of 3.4 million tonnes of CO2 being released into the environment. The importance of ensuring this plan is implemented cannot be understated. The EU must strive to be internationally considered the pioneer in regulation on single-use plastics, as well as environmental regulation in general. This will place Europeans technologically in the lead globally.

Indeed, recent legislation is a great first step, but we must not stop here. We must strive to go beyond. The situation affecting our environment is dire and requires an urgent response. Drastic measures are therefore necessary. The steps we must take may seem extreme, but without them, we will all suffer the consequences.

We are all Greta Thunberg and should do our bit.

 

David Casa is PN Head of Delegation at the European Parliament

 

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