EU bag law stirs up Italy-UK row over 'good' plastic and bad

  • World
  • Thursday, 13 Nov 2014

Shoppers cross Oxford Street in central London August 15, 2013. REUTERS/Toby Melville

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A draft EU law to tackle Europe's mountain of plastic bags has pitched Italy, Britain and their rival eco-packaging firms against each other, as efforts to hammer out the details enter the final stage.

The executive European Commission last year proposed to limit the number of thin, single-use plastic bags handed out in shops but stopped short of an outright ban.

Since then the European Parliament has called for tougher targets, such as a 50 percent reduction within three years, to cut the number of plastic bags handed out in shops and a ban on a certain kind marketed as biodegradable.

Green campaigners say these bags, which use a technology known as "oxo-biodegradable", fragment into microplastic and remain an environmental hazard, harming wildlife and ecosystems.

They are marketed by British-based Symphony. Competitor Novamont from Italy, holder of the rotating European presidency, is among those to produce bio-plastics from vegetable matter, which environmentalists say are safe.

The Oxo-biodegradable Plastics Association (OPA), speaking on behalf of Symphony, said the European Parliament's proposed oxo-biodegradable plastic ban followed lobbying from "a large Italian company with close links to the Italian government".

"They see oxo-biodegradable plastic as a serious competitor," it said, adding that scientific research proved the environmental credentials of oxo-biodegradable technology.

Marco Versali, president of industry group Assobioplastiche, which includes Novamont, said the parliament's proposal had the support of many member states.

Talks on Monday are meant to finalise the content of the new law, which the full European Parliament and member states would have to endorse.

Magrete Auken, a Danish Green politician leading negotiations for the European Parliament, said she was concerned Euro-scepticism and worries Britain will leave the European Union were curbing the appetite for EU legislation.

"It's turning into a power struggle of the UK versus the EU," she said.

Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans said the draft legislation had become too complicated and told reporters the EU executive had to be sure a law had the desired effect.

"I'm not sure in this plastic bag thing whether this is still what we intended," he said.

(Editing by Andrew Roche)

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