Malta Independent

The war on plastic

- David Casa David Casa is PN Head of Delegation at the European Parliament

Single-use plastics are a huge problem for our environmen­t. The European Parliament 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?’”

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 in ensuring 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 supermarke­ts. This is waste that could easily be reduced or, alternativ­ely, made from recyclable or 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 ends up in the environmen­t, specifical­ly in our oceans and other bodies of water. The presence of plastic in the ocean 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 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 am confident this legislatio­n will lead 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 drinking cups wherever possible.

Member states can fulfill all of these requiremen­ts, but what’s truly important to guarantee 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 requires 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 awarenessr­aising measures should be taken to increase the public’s knowledge of 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 causing damage 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.

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