Source: The Guardian
Brussels proposes ban on plastic straws and cutlery and calls out Brexiter Michael Gove
Brussels has challenged the UK’s environment secretary, Michael Gove, to try to outdo it in an environmental “race to the top” as it proposed a ban on plastic straws, cutlery, plates, cotton buds and balloon sticks.
Frans Timmermans, the European commission’s first vice-president, directly addressed Gove, a fervent Brexiter, as he unveiled details of the planned prohibition, along with measures designed to reduce the use of plastic takeaway containers and drinking cups.
Timmermans, who has repeatedly clashed with Gove on Twitter in recent months, told reporters: “Worldwide this is the most ambitious and comprehensive legal proposal addressing marine litter. We can lead the way. We have to lead the way for our environment, for our health, but also to turn this into a competitive advantage for Europe.
“What I hope for after today is a race to the top, and I invite all those who said the EU is too slow – whether they are Michael Gove or others – to join us in this race to the top. Lets see who does best at this.”
This year Gove and Timmermans publicly goaded each other over their rival claims to be the most advanced in clamping down on plastic waste. Gove, who announced in February a consultation on banning plastic straws in the UK, suggested at the time that the measure might not be possible owing to EU legislation.
Timmermans responded on Twitter that Brussels, having announced its own plastic strategy in January, including a potential ban, was “one step ahead of you”.
On Monday Timmermans published draft legislation that he hopes will be agreed by the member states and European parliament by the time of the European elections next May.
The plastics ban will not come into force until after Brexit, meaning it will not be among the bulk of legislation to be automatically transposed into UK law.
Asked whether the proposed ban proved that the EU rather than the UK was the true pioneer, Timmermans said: “Who cares as long as the environment wins? Who cares as long as we take plastic out of the ocean. If this is a big victory for Michael Gove, I will applaud him. But let’s see who gets there first.”
The UK still remains ahead of the game at least in banning plastic microbeads from cosmetics and personal care products, something Timmermans admitted the EU should urgently address.
It can take as long as two years for EU directives to be transposed into national laws once they have been agreed and officially published.
Timmermans, a Dutch former foreign minister, said Brussels was feeling emboldened to prioritise action against plastic waste due to a change in public sentiment across Europe, in part arising from what he described at David Attenborough’s “masterpiece”, Blue Planet.
As well as banning a number of popular single-use plastic products, the EU wants to reduce the use of other others where there are as yet no readily available alternatives. Producers of takeaway containers, plastic drinking bottles and cups will be forced to contribute to cleaning up their collection and waste treatment.
There will be new labelling requirements to inform consumers about the environmental impact of wet wipes and how to dispose of them properly. The EU is holding open the possibility of a plastics tax linked to each producer’s record on encouraging recycling.