28 April 2019


We must ban single-use plastic


Earlier this month an eight-metre-long whale washed ashore, dead, in Sardinia – with 22kg of plastic garbage in its stomach. The whale was pregnant; the foetus had not survived.

Island nations like Malta clearly depend on the sea. For trade, for tourism, for transport. The same is true for all the EU’s 23 coastal Member States. And yet the truth is that our waterways, in Europe and around the world, are interconnected. Our rivers flow to the seas, which in turn provide us with food and which affect global weather patterns. No Member State, no country, can escape the reality that we must work together to preserve our seas and oceans.

This is why I’m calling for a global treaty to ban single-use plastics – to awaken a true global commitment just as the Paris Agreement continues to do for climate change. Let’s respond to what our citizens are telling us. Let’s protect our ecosystem from harmful, unnecessary waste. Let’s protect our seas and oceans for the next generation.

In March of this year, 1.4 million young people, in over 2,000 towns and cities in over 120 countries around the world, joined together to call for action to protect our planet. Students joined in protest to make their voices heard: protecting our planet is simply non-negotiable. Our ecosystem is in danger, and we don’t have time to waste.

Eliminating single-use plastics is one clear, concrete step we can take immediately to move us in the right direction. We know oceans are particularly vital, making up over 70 per cent of the earth. And we know they are particularly vulnerable, with every year eight million tons of plastic being dumped there. That’s roughly the same as 800 Eiffel Towers of plastic garbage.

“Europe must lead the way towards clean innovation that can revolutionise how we protect our seas and oceans”

Europe’s nationals and populists have no answer, for this is an area where we simply must work together in Europe. Retreating within our national borders won’t work; it won’t even protect us from the effects of all that plastic litter, since our seas have no borders.

The European Parliament has taken its responsibility seriously. At the end of March, with leadership from the EPP Group, the Parliament overwhelmingly approved a ban on many single-use plastic items in Europe, including plates, cutlery and straws. And we will drastically reduce waste from plastic bottles.

But this is only a first step. We need to go much further. We need to show leadership and demonstrate once again, as Europeans, the transformative power of innovation. We know, for instance, that oceans contribute to a growing proportion of our own EU economy, including €174 billion in value added, and that they support 3.5 million EU jobs. And we know that replacing disposable plastic with creative alternatives and reusables doesn’t just make ecological sense: it’s also good business, since about 95 per cent of plastic’s value is ultimately lost. This means there is between €70 and €105 billion, per year, that we could be recouping with innovative new reusable products.

Protecting the oceans and better business, therefore – including better job opportunities – go hand in hand. We have to create the conditions for innovation which will drive real change while also producing new growth. The clean tech sector, for instance, currently employs over four million Europeans. The catalytic converter for cars, the introduction of sewage pipes: these are just two examples of inventions which dramatically improved our air and water even as they boosted growth. Bioplastics and alternative materials can do the same in giving us the key to clean oceans. Let’s create the conditions our European innovators need to succeed.

Finally, this is not just Europe’s problem. Today 90 per cent of the plastic waste that ends up in our oceans comes from rivers outside Europe. As with climate change, we cannot tell countries experiencing rapid growth simply to stop producing. We have to show that progress means striking a balance between prosperity and responsibility.

Europe must lead the way towards clean innovation that can revolutionise how we protect our seas and oceans. Ultimately, we will need a true global effort. This is why, as next President of the European Commission, I will call for a global treaty to ban single-use plastic, to awake a global commitment to this issue just as the Paris Agreement is doing on climate change.

It’s the only way to make sure we will not find plastic instead of fish and that the delicate, vital ecosystem of the world’s oceans will be protected. Only together, with a strong Europe showing global leadership, can we create a better world for future generations.


Manfred Weber is leader of the European People’s Party.


This op-ed was first published on the 28th of April 2019 in the Times of Malta.