STRASBOURG • Single-use plastic items such as straws, forks and knives as well as cotton buds will be banned in the European Union by 2021 following a vote by EU lawmakers amid growing concerns about plastic pollution in oceans.
Stories of dead whales with plastic in their stomachs and China's decision to stop processing waste have prompted the EU to take more drastic steps to tackle the issue.
Marine litter has come under the spotlight because 85 per cent of it is plastic.
The European Parliament on Wednesday voted by 560 to 35 in favour of banning 10 single-use plastics including plates, balloon sticks, food and beverage containers made of expanded polystyrene and all oxo-degradable plastic products.
These are the 10 most-found items on EU beaches. Single-use plastics are disposable plastic-made products that are designed to be used only once before being thrown away.
EU countries can choose their own methods of reducing the use of other single-use plastics such as takeout containers and cups for beverages. They will also have to collect and recycle at least 90 per cent of beverage bottles by 2029.
The EU will encourage member states to reduce the use of plastic packaging as well as introduce stricter labelling rules.
Tobacco companies will be required to cover the costs for the public collection of cigarette stubs, which are the second most-littered single-use plastic item.
"Europe is setting new and ambitious standards, paving the way for the rest of the world," said Euro-pean Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans.
The commission had recommended the regulations approved by the bloc's Parliament.
The EU currently recycles only a quarter of the 25 million tonnes of plastics waste it produces per year.
"Plastics poison our seas," said Mr Frederique Ries, a Belgian member who steered the draft law through the 28-nation assembly. "If we do not take action, by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans."
EU governments have already signalled support for the ban, making their final approval, which is due on April 15, a formality.
Lobbying group EuroCommerce, whose members include Tesco, Lidl, Carrefour and Metro, said governments also need to do their part to help make recycling a success.
"Without a proper waste management infrastructure and sufficient recycling facilities, we will not achieve a circular economy or the objectives of this directive," said EuroCommerce director-general Christian Verschueren.
Environmental group Greenpeace welcomed the ban but criticised the lack of targets for EU countries to follow on some plastics.