E.U. Parliament Votes to Ban Plastic Straws

A plastic curtain has descended over Europe.


Luka Ivanovic/

A specter is haunting Europe—the specter of straw bans.

On Wednesday the European Parliament, the legislative arm of the E.U., voted 571–53 to approve a new continental strategy for cracking down on single-use plastics. The measure includes outright prohibitions on such popular items as straws, cotton buds, and disposable cutlery.

"We have adopted the most ambitious legislation against single-use plastics," says Frédérique Ries of Belgium, who sponsored the initiative. "It is essential in order to protect the marine environment and reduce the costs of environmental damage attributed to plastic pollution in Europe."

Wednesday's legislation also calls for a 25 percent reduction in the use of plastic food containers, cups, and other items that were not deemed as easily replaceable as straws. Other products will be hit with new design requirements, such as a mandating that caps be tethered to single-use plastic bottles.

The legislation also requires that the fishing industry cover the costs of collecting discarded fishing gear. The industry will also be on the hook for paying for plastic pollution awareness campaigns.

In addition, E.U member countries will be tasked with reducing waste from cigarette filters—the most commonly found plastic item on beaches and coastlines—by 80 percent come 2030.

All these provisions track pretty closely with the plastics proposal crafted the European Commission (the E.U.'s bureaucratic arm) in May. The European Parliament will now have to enter into negotiations with the Council of Ministers, a body comprised of national officials from member states, before the legislation can go into effect.

On Monday, the U.K.—currently attempting to free itself of Brussels' bureaucracy—announced that it hopes to have a plastic straw ban in effect by October 2019.

This all adds up to a big hit to consumer freedom across the continent. And while the intentions of straw banners are good, it's unlikely that these restrictions will do much to improve the environment.

The E.U.—including the U.K.—contributes roughly 1 percent of the amount of plastic entering the ocean each year. Specific items such as plastic straws and stirrers contribute far less. Eliminating these products from the waste stream will have an incredibly marginal effect on the environmental consequences of marine plastic pollution.

And while some might argue it is better to do something than nothing, straw bans do come with costs—for the very young, the very old, and the disabled, who often require straws to consume beverages; for many businesses, which now will have to make do with more expensive replacements; and for consumers' ability to choose what utensils work best for them.

NEXT: Suspect Arrested in Attempted Mail Bombings

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Amazing how much a total lack of any scientific rigor can go in this world.

    1. Yep.

      Just like the European hysterics about GMO food.

      1. From this morning’s Nature Briefing:

        Three months after the European Union’s top court gave gene-edited crops the same stringent legal status as genetically modified (GM) organisms, researchers are starting to feel the pinch. “We see a chilling effect on plans for performing research with CRISPR-edited plants in the field,” says Ren? Custers, at Belgium’s
        VIB life-sciences research institute. And a Brazilian firm says that it has put gene-editing projects focused on soya beans on hold, because its major market is in Europe. On 24 October, 170 European scientists released a paper urging a
        change in the law.

  2. And to think the UK wants to leave this kind of comedy gold behind. Terry Gilliam must be so depressed to think what was once surreal parody is now the daily news.

  3. We’re doomed.

    BTW, what is a “cotton bud”? A Q-Tip?

    1. Q-Tip is a trademarked brand that has not (yet) been genericized. But, yes, a “cotton bud” is the generic name.

      1. Cotton bud is British. Cotton swab (or ear/oral swab) is American/generic. Cotton wool is cotton ball and cotton candy is candy floss.

  4. Every time someone says “there oughta be a law…”

    Kill them.

    1. So you think that ought to be a law?

      1. It should be more of what you’d call a guideline than an actual law.

        1. It’s the pirates code…

    2. I prefer to punch them in the face-anyone who says such a thing is a Nazi afterall

      1. Nuke them from orbit.

        1. It’s the only way to be sure.

          1. Love the “Aliens” reference!

    3. I hate I laughed so hard.

  5. “A plastic curtain has descended over Europe.”

    It’s more like a bullshit curtain.

    And it’s been descending on that continent for a very long time.

    1. Crier: Must be a king.
      Cartmaster: Why?
      Man: Because ‘e asn’t got shit all over ‘im.

    2. From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic?

  6. And the experts all wonder why the EU is falling apart.

  7. This all adds up to a big hit to consumer freedom across the continent.

    US purveyors of single-use plastic items abroad can go fuck themselves, we’ve narratives to uphold.

  8. Will prisons be handing out steel straws? what type of utensils do you give people who tend to make a weapon out of anything

    1. Who cares if Muslim immigrants are raping little girls left and right? What’s important is that any condoms they may use aren’t cluttering up the beaches.

      1. They use condoms? I thought their purpose was to impregnate.

  9. So, they’re going to start strip mining for metals I assume. That’s certainly better for the environment, as long as they keep it in India and China. Right?

  10. The needs of the handicapped are the tip of the iceberg. They and all the rest of us are in danger from a straw ban. I’m expecting a spike in epidemics transferred by hand. Anyone who has ever spent any time watching servers provide drinks, has seen them handle the cups or glasses by the rims, with or without gloved hands. They do so after touching mop-handles, cash registers, faucets, and other items likely covered in germs–sit and watch.
    Apparently, servers think gloves were meant to keep their hands clean, and I’m surprised, given California’s outrage with single-use items, they haven’t banned gloves for food-handlers: they scratch their heads with them, so I don’t think gloves do anything to prevent the spread of disease, and they take up space in the landfill too. Instead, they require them. That’s an educational problem, without a legislatable solution.
    The best defense for consumers is to drink from a straw (wrapped) or stick to drinking alcohol, to avoid drinking from a contaminated rim.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.