Europeans will only be allowed to use 90 disposable bags per year by 2019 and merely 40 by 2025, according to the European Parliament and the member states.
"Halve or pay"
The previous European Commission chose the "soft approach" in November 2013. It was then decided that the use of disposable bags had to drop 80 %, but member states could choose for themselves how - and more importantly when - to reach that target.
The new European Commission, led by Juncker, copied that approach, but was taken by surprise when European Parliament and its 28 member states jointly decided on a much stricter deal, summarized as "halve or pay".
Member states have two options: either a levy on the use of disposable bags from 2018 onward to discourage their use, or reduce the number of disposable plastic bags to 90 bags per person per year by the end of 2019 and 40 by the end of 2025. That would mean it would more than halve every time, as the current European average is some 200 bags.
Commission has its doubts
Frans Timmermans, European Commissioner and tasked with reigning in Europe's regulatory urges, had already expressed concerns about the compromise's viability. A number of member states apparently does not have sufficient data to pin down enforceable European guidelines, while there is not enough legislation present to label biodegradable bags.
"We support the goal to limit the consumption of plastic disposable bags, while fighting trash and sea pollution, but it is a well-known fact that the new Commission strives for better legislation", a spokesperson for the Commission explained.
A 'clash' between the Commission and Parliament seemed imminent, but in the end, Dutch European Commissioner Timmermans revealed that the Commission would no longer protest the compromise, paving the way for the guideline's approval.
It is estimated that some 98.6 billion plastic disposable bags were used in Europe in 2010. More than 8 billion of those ended up polluting the environment with devastating consequences: 80 % of all environmental pollution at sea consists of plastic. On average, there is a plastic bag every 23 m around the United Kingdom coastline.
With only some 100 bags per consumer per year, Belgium is among the best students of the class. Way lower on the scale are the Portuguese and the Polish, with 460 bags per consumer per year. There is still room for improvement for Belgium as the Danes and the Finns only use 4 bags per consumer per year.