The European Commission has launched a public consultation on plastic carrier bags and in particular is assessing the effectiveness of a ban or levy to discourage and reduce their use.

The European Commission has launched a public consultation on plastic carrier bags and in particular is assessing the effectiveness of a ban or levy to discourage and reduce their use.

Plastic bags have become a real menace to the marine environment. Data taken from the International Bottom Trawl Survey and the Clean Seas Environmental Monitoring Programme indicate that plastic bags makes up 40% of all marine litter in the waters of the North East Atlantic.

The French research institute IFREMER has also found that in the Bay of Biscay most of the waste items found on the seabed were plastic (92%) and of those 94% were plastic bags.

The harm caused by plastic bags to marine species, such as turtles who confuse the bags for jellyfish as food, is considerable and it is thought that all plastic items in the marine environment are responsible for harming at least 267 species of marine organisms through either entanglement or ingestion.

As things currently stand, some EU Member States have already taken action to reduce the use of plastic carrier bags through pricing measures, agreements with the retail sector and bans on certain types of bags, but no specific measures exist at the EU level.

Seas At Risk raised concern about single use plastic products at the 2010 OSPAR Ministerial Meeting, and at a subsequent European Commission workshop on marine litter, calling for measures to reduce the use of disposable plastic items.

In March 2011, EU environment ministers discussed the environmental impact of plastic carrier bags and the concerns they raised indicated that effective EU action is needed.

Image by Surfrider Foundation Europe

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