The Balearic Islands are moving to ban the sale of all single-use consumer plastics by 2020 in what could be the most far-reaching legislation in Europe against disposable products.
In a radical response to plastic rubbish blighting its tourist beaches and beauty spots, the regional government has proposed prohibiting the sale of goods including everyday items like plastic cups, plates and cutlery, straws, disposable razors, lighters and coffee machine capsules.
Such items will have to become “easily recyclable” or convert to biodegradable alternatives, in what will pose a major challenge to manufacturers.
“Our territory is limited and environmentally sensitive, while an economy mainly based on tourism sends the use of such items spiralling”, explained Sebastiá Sansó, director general of the region’s environmental department.
In the case of coffee capsules and pods, used by thousands of cafés popular with tourists around the islands, Mr Sansó said that some makers already organised collection and recycling. “But the great majority of capsules cannot be recycled, and we are producing more and more unnecessary residues," he said.
Since coming to power in 2015, the Balearic socialist-led government, supported by the Left-wing MES and Podemos parties, has fought to limit the impact of mass tourism on Ibiza, Mallorca and the archipelago’s smaller islands. Measures have included a limit of bed capacity fixed at just under 625,000 and doubling the daily tax paid by visitors to an average of three euros per day.
As well as a ban on single-use plastic products such as food-packaging trays and shopping bags, the new law will demand that wet wipes be clearly labelled to stop people flushing them down the toilet. Last November, a build-up of wet wipes ruptured sewers at Ibiza’s Cala de Bou, covering several hundred metres of coastline with a tangle of used wipes and detritus.
The Balearic parliament is also due to debate whether it should force bars and restaurants to offer tap water free to customers in a bid to cut down on the amount of plastic bottles discarded on the islands. As things stand, establishments are within their rights to only provide bottled water.
The Balearic push to prevent plastics from polluting the environment follows France’s announcement in 2016 that plastic cups, plates and cutlery would be banned by 2020.
Pack2Go Europe, an organisation representing European packaging manufacturers, accused the French ban of affecting the EU principle of free movement of goods, but this week the European Commission announced plans to ensure all plastic packaging should be recyclable by 2030, while phasing out single-use items such as coffee-machine cups.
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Regions of India, including Delhi, have also imposed complete bans on the use of disposable plastic items to tackle a crisis in waste.
According to a 2016 study by the World Economic Forum, 32 per cent of 78 million tons of plastic packaging produced annually end up in our oceans, the equivalent of emptying one rubbish truck full of plastic into the seas every minute.