The campaign against plastic pollution received a significant boost when MEPs passed a directive banning certain single-use plastic products from 2021. Hardest hit will be the fast food industry, which must move away from their favoured plastic containers, with plastic cups, cutlery, plates, and straws affected. Plastic cotton buds will also no longer be permitted.
It’s a big win for environmentalists whose message against the products was rammed home by Elisabeth Köstinger, Austrian federal minister of sustainability and tourism, who warned that “measured by weight, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050, if we continue dumping plastic in the sea at the present rate. We cannot let this happen”.
Leading the way within Europe is Spain. The country’s green credentials were boosted by its support for the MEPs’ move, and builds upon a strong year, where the nation’s politicians displayed a strong environmental will.
Several regions were quick to implement the 2018 European directive banning single-use plastic carrier bags. The Balearic Islands took more drastic action than expected, recognising that plastics create environmental issues, as well as creating a poor image among the lifeblood of the islands tourists. Beaches with plastic and refuse strewn across them, are not attractive, and for a country with a large number of blue flag beaches, it is a big problem.
Ironically, the same tourism which the Islands depend upon commercially, is the single biggest cause of pollution.
From 2020, all single-use consumer plastics must be replaced by “easily recyclable” or biodegradable alternatives. As well as embracing the directive, the Islands legislature expanded its remit, to include disposable razors, lighters, and coffee machine capsules.
Sebastià Sansó, director general of the region’s environmental department, observed that the “territory is limited and environmentally sensitive, while an economy mainly based on tourism sends the use of such items spiralling”.
Coffee machine capsules are a particular blight. “The great majority of capsules cannot be recycled,” he commented. “And we are producing more and more unnecessary residues.”
Lidl and Eroski are two retailers committed to implementing the legislation at the earliest opportunity. Both announced moves to fully recyclable bags, with the materials sourced from sustainable sources.
Events Forced A Nation’s Hand
Spain found itself being forced to act quickly. The country, according to a 2018 WWF report, is Europe’s fourth-largest consumer of consumable plastics in the EU, and only Turkey is responsible for greater levels of plastic pollution in the Mediterranean Sea.
This was rammed home when a dead sperm whale drifted ashore at the Cala del Muerto in Cabo de Palos, during February 2018. At the local wildlife recovery centre in El Valle, they found the unfortunate creature consumed 29 kgs of plastics as they conducted an autopsy.
While schemes were already underway, events such as this damage the country’s reputation. Spain responded publicly, becoming a prominent and enthusiastic supporter of a wide range of environmental issues.
Sea life was a major beneficiary, with 46,585 square kilometres of the Mediterranean Sea, between the mainland and Balearics, declared a marine wildlife reserve to protect the migrations of whales and dolphins within the area. Prospecting for fossil fuels is outlawed within the zone.
Sperm whales were among nine species of mammals specifically targeted by the measure.
Fossil fuels found themselves under particular attack. The government announced that most of the country’s coal mines would close by the end of 2018. It was a move which will result in €250 million being invested in those regions affected, with a focus on not just the human cost, but also “environmental restoration”.
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s government is taking a more proactive approach to green issues compared to his predecessors. The closure of the mines shines a light on the determination behind a move toward more use of renewable energy sources. Removing the proposed “sunshine tax” encouraged the solar industry in its efforts to be able to attract new investment.
An Ecological Global Economy
Sánchez has made environmental issues a central plank of his thinking. After many delays, he issued a long-awaited and ambitious climate plan. Among the targets is a 90% reduction of its 1990 greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. By that time, the country is also expecting all electricity to come from renewable sources.
These are lofty ambitions for a country previously noted for its lethargy on such matters.
“Spain”, Sánchez declared, “is ready to contribute to creating a global economy that is prosperous, fair, and ecological” at a recent climate conference in Madrid.
A costly investment programme is being undertaken by the Spanish prime minister, and it’s one he knows will not win him many votes. However, he believes political leaders are obliged to persuade citizens that “a tough adaptation in the short-term” avoids long-term damage. Their support is vital in the success of such policies, he contended.
Spain would not be following the lead of the United States, and withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, the 2015 accord; Teresa Ribera, Spain’s Minister for Ecological Transition said. Placing emphasis on the need for a united front from all nations, if we are to avoid irreparable damage to the planet.