Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
MEPs back EU ban on throwaway plastics by 2021 (europa.eu)
89 points by lelf 12 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 65 comments

Meanwhile all my vegetables, fruits etc is double packed or I pay three times the price for unpacked stuff. In my home the amount of plastics I have to put into the yellow bin has quadrupled over the last 10years.

I don’t really get why they styropak fruits and vegetables in parts of Asia and Europe. I’m not talking bags, actual trays wrapped in plastic film—as chicken meat in a US supermarket.

Unfortunately even the US is catching up to this trend where things are portioned out in standard packs (rather than loose).

You can see how different countries have different customs for storing their goods here [1], this was linked few days ago in a diff thread, but is illustrative.


This is very much a regional thing, in my experience. E.g. in parts of the Southeastern US, I found that plastic+styrofoam overpackaging was ubiquitous as far back as the 1980s. In markets I've been to in parts of the Northeast and Northwest in decades since, it's been virtually nonexistent to entomb produce in plastic – bulk produce has been the norm.

Oddly I’m seeing this packing creep in in places like Trader Joe’s and some other (small) independents, not so much the big chains, thankfully.

Trader Joe's, a small indie? Try "owned by one of the Aldis".

Yeah sorry, I missed the Oxford comma there. Those are separate sets.


If I understand that correctly, I think it is the opposite in the US. The packaged fruits and vegetables costs a lot more. Perhaps for the convenience value and mostly in affluent grocery stores.

Usually this reduces waste. I bet we'll see the next panic about food waste.

This kills me when my wife brings home 8 apples from Costco that come in a double blister pack of hard plastic.

Are you sure your fruit and veg are wrapped in plastic and not cellulose based cellophane?

mine dropped almost to zero since I am a member of a FoodCoop.

You pay trice the price because shelf life of unpacked vegetables is considerably shorter, necessitating more food waste and/or more involved logistics. These extra costs are factored in.

Where is this?

Austria. In Germany it is the same ir worse. They introduced a deposit fee on plastic bottles a few years ago because the percentage of glas bottles sold was too low. So all super markets started to create their own proprietary bottles (only to be returned to the originator; not any shop as a glas bottle) and now even more plastic bottles are sold and not returned. Markets like REWE or ALDI make some extra money.

Germany has a return rate of PET single-use bottles with deposit of 98.8%. Of which ~95% are recycled.

I wonder how much the numerator is biased by fraud like:




Apparently you could produce fake bottles for a few cents and get a 5-15x return.

I'm not sure about the prevalence of this issue today but about 10 years ago I helped create a fraud protection system specifically targeted at deposit return fraud.

However, at the time at least the problem apparently wasn't so much people manipulating return machines but rather bottles miraculously appearing out of nowhere from within the system (i.e. parties trying to register a bunch of bottles more than once or attempting to remove bottles in-between checkpoints in order to "reuse" them later on).

My point is: The idea of the law was to reduce the plastic output but quite the opposite happened. Every bigger company introduced their own version of plastic bottles you cannot bring somewhere else.

Also your number is also very specific: Are there non PET single use bottles as well? What counts as recycling anyway. Shipping to China? Burning?

One solution is to start a 1000 year landfill pipeline. Plastic is usually inert and harmless in a landfill and will slowly decompose. Landfills >> Rivers

Source for the fact that plastic will decompose in isolated environements (dry, no sun light, constant temperature, no radiations, only plastic) ? Because else you will have to engineer a system that risk leaking into the environnement (dirty water, particles, vapors, etc.).

Just a reminder that 1000 years is a crazy long time to maintain a landfill when we do not seem to be able to contain some waste for merely 30 years without it becoming a superfund site... https://cumulis.epa.gov/supercpad/cursites/csitinfo.cfm?id=0...

A TON of people have an irrational gut reaction against landfills in general and the concept of burying plastic in particular. There is absolutely no shortage of landfill space, but due to some mafia fuckery in the 80s (MOBRO 4000: https://slatestarcodex.com/2019/01/01/what-happened-to-90s-e...) a ton of people think we're on the verge of running out of space.

If you try to open a new landfill you'll be against a ton of people protesting you.

So we're not out of space in theory but in practice it's problematic.

The same goes for sewage treatment plants or basically any infrastructure at all. A city where everybody is happy cannot exist.

(clickbaity piece on topic, sort of)

Metal drinking straw fatally impales woman through her eye after fall

Elena Struthers-Gardner, 60, suffered brain injuries when she fell onto an eco-friendly metal drinking straw which impaled her eye, an inquest heard.


I’m always very uncomfortable with people drinking out of bottles or using straws or other utensils in a car while it’s in motion. If the driver needs to brake urgently bad things can happen.

Bottles will take out your teeth. Straws and other utensils will damage your palette and throat or an eye.

Didn't Starbucks's metal straws injure children's mouths or something? (Edit: Yes, they were recalled. https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/starbucks-metal-straw-recal...)

I think paper straws are a safer solution, alas they don't maintain rigidity well when wet.

It was the final straw.

While the above is obviously bad, how does it compare with the injury rate from plastic straws? With plastic it would not have been zero.

She must not have seen this classic '1000 Ways to Die' segment where a platinum drinking straw starts out in a nostril and ends up in a frontal lobe.


I wonder if the EU wouldn’t accomplish a lot more for the world if it worked with (e.g.) China to fund a solution to catch the plastics flowing out of their rivers.

[1] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/stemming-the-plas...

The article notes that "Single-use plastic items such as plates, cutlery, straws, balloon sticks or cotton buds, will be banned in the EU under plans adopted on Wednesday...." because "These products... make up over 70% of marine litter".

Being 70% of marine litter is a good argument that there's a problem to be fixed, but banning something only makes sense if there are reasonable alternatives or that doing without is acceptable. Plates and cutlery of single-use plastic have obvious alternatives. Straws are more complicated; here's one list discussing the alternatives: https://earth911.com/food/straw-alternatives/ It wasn't clear to me that the impacts of this proposal were considered in detail; I hope the impacts were considered!

Surely 'no straw' is an obvious alternative to straw? In a generic sense, 'no X' should always be the first option if plausible.

If your car could run without fuel, we wouldn't need alternative fuels!

Tell that to McDonalds' customers who will refuse to "eat" their milkshakes without a straw. I do agree we should stop using these single use plastics, especially for junk from McDonald's, but in this instance you can't just tell people to stop using them in all circumstances.

I’m sure the customers will eat milkshakes without a straw when the choices are eating it without a straw and throwing it away. You don’t need to tell people to stop using straws. You just stop giving them straws.

Realistically though the plastic straws will be replaced by a slightly more expensive, biodegradable alternative.

Not for a lot of disabled people. There are many reasons why a straw might be necessary.

People who are disabled don't need disposable straws, because they'll always need one.

I remember a few years ago Coca-Cola was creating a plant-based bottle. [1] Does anyone know why this tech isn't taking off more than it has?

[1] https://www.coca-colacompany.com/press-center/press-releases...

My wife bought a plastic water bottle at McDonald's in Munich today. I can't say that I've looked at them much before, but I happened to look at this one. The label said "plantbottle®" and "14% nachwachsende Rohstoffe, 35% wieder verwerteter Kunststoff, 100% recyclebar" (14% renewable raw materials, 35% recycled plastic, 100% recyclable). The numbers might not be exact, just going by memory.

So there's something out there at least. It was Vio brand, which I think is a Coke or Coke-related brand?

I believe they use PLA which is "compostable" (in an industrial composter which nobody ever uses). I think someone mentioned that it messes with normal plastic recycling methods. Plastic is sorted optically - maybe there is no way to distinguish it from PET or whatever they use now.

Possibly the carbon emissions are greater for the plant-based product?

Or the plant product diverts production away from food, making food more expensive?

It was probably too early for the market to be successful

Are those bio-degradable?

I feel like a huge portion of trash in Manhattan is due to single use utensils and container for food take out. The plastic bag ban that will take affect in 2 years doesn't even affect takeout.

The trash problem in Manhattan has to do with density and lack of room for dumpsters in semi-public space, so it isn't more trash but just making manifest the same trash problem as everywhere else but on a local scale. This is a good microcosm for politics.

I use next to no paper at work, don't even bring a backpack, and yet use plastic utensils every day. I'm stuff-free except this most basic wasteful junk.

I would like to in addition to banning single use plastics also require that all offices have dish washers, and all take out places allow you to bring your own container.

Meanwhile the majority of the plastic comes from certain countries that will remain unnamed and that will never do anything about it...

Before anyone starts saying anything about trash exports, some statistics for you to consider (Copypasted from last time this came up, also sorry mobile users for the formatting):

  2010 total plastic marine debris[0]: 4,800k - 12,700k metric tons
  2010 EU plastic marine debris[0]: 50k-120k metric tons (Higher than the US by ~1k)
  2010 EU plastic marine debris percentage[0]: 1%
  2016 EU export of nontoxic garbage to a country in top 10 plastic marine waste[2]: 269k tonnes (a lot missing statistics so wide error bars here)
  2015 percent of nontoxic garbage export that is plastic/mixed[1]: ~9%

  Probable amount of EU plastic that gets exported to top 10 country: 26.9k - 53.8k tonnes
  Crude adjusted EU ranking if 100% of the doubled amount makes it into the ocean: ~10th 
  Incredibly crude adjusted EU plastic marine debris percentage: 2%
[0]: https://www.iswa.org/fileadmin/user_upload/Calendar_2011_03_... (the footnote of table 1 specifically)

[1]: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php...

[2]: http://appsso.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/nui/show.do (You'll have to screw with the customizations to get useful statistics)

[3]: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/web/waste/transboundary-waste-...

Edit: formatting

Please don't copy-paste comments on HN. Repetition lowers signal/noise. If you want to draw attention to something that was posted previously, a link is good.

> Incredibly crude adjusted EU plastic marine debris percentage: 2%

Whoa, you are telling me can have a measurable, whole integer impact? That sounds like a huge win!

A lot of the ways we solve this problem are going to be <1% at a time. 0.05% here, 0.75% there.

We could say, "this doesn't solve a big percentage of the problem so why bother" or we can meaningfully tackle something as large as 0.5%.

Technically you can carve a wood log with a piece of sandpaper, but I recommend a chainsaw.

The problem we have is not a wood log. The problem we have is a widely distributed pile of sawdust. If you find a wood log we can cut with a chainsaw, by all means let's do so. I just don't believe it exists.

Here are 10 logs. Let me know if you need help starting the chainsaw.


When 93% of the ocean's plastic waste is coming from 10 riviers, those need to be the focus. That doesn't mean ignore the ~7% coming from elsewhere, because this truly is a problem we all need to solve together.

Read that article again. 93% of the plastic sent into the ocean by rivers comes from just 10 rivers. The article says between 4 and 25% of the ocean's waste comes from rivers.

So, yes, there are some big items there. The Yangtze could be 2% - 12% (based on the article's comment that it was roughly half of river trash.) But other rivers are smaller, and we're back into the realm of talking about single integer improvements.

Rivers are of particular interest because they represent the primary mechanism by which inland plastic finds it's way into the ocean. Coastal releases of plastic only happen in coastal regions. Granted, most of the world's population lives reasonably close to a coast, but even in those regions the plastic waste is often carried to the ocean by water through smaller waterways, such as rain water carrying plastic litter down storm drains. (Or the waste is left directly on the beach and the next high tide picks it up.)

This article goes into the correlation between plastic waste in Asian rivers and Monsoon season: https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms15611

That correlation suggests that a large portion of plastic in Asian rivers is being carried into those rivers by rain water, a similar mechanism to how plastic waste is emitted from coastal regions.

Of course there are other mechanisms in play too, such as municipalities deliberately, perhaps illegally, dumping their waste into rivers or off a coast. But a ton of it is coming from ground litter either left directly on the beach or carried to the ocean one way or another by water. Regions with the heaviest rain and the most ground liter are the biggest contributors, as you would logically expect.

And even if you find one: If you only have sandpaper then sandpaper is still better then looking at the wood log and "sorry, I know this has to be worked on, but I don't have the right tools - and I know I probably won't get them in time either - but I won't do with this bad tool". Sometimes you have to use what you have, even if it sucks.

We do have the tools. International economic and military sanctions on regions that refuse to cooperate in cleanup and reform efforts, and international funding for those that do. Other rivers have been cleaned up before, the big 10 polluting rivers can be cleaned up too. This is not a technical problem, it's a political problem. When push comes to shove, our current political regimes seem to have little regard for the environment as a whole.

Token gestures only placate people so they don't demand meaningful reform.

> International economic and military sanctions on regions that refuse to cooperate in cleanup and reform efforts

Just so I don't misunderstand you: You want to go to war with countries that you consider not green enough?

It took me two readings to catch that "269,000 tonnes" was not '269,000k tonnes' I recommend trying to keep the unit/scale matched up to improve comprehension rates.

Good idea, I'll edit it.

For the point(s) comparing countries (unions) perhaps one useful detail to put things into perspective is the population. In this case the EU has an ~55% larger population than the US.

That isn’t an argument for anyone else to not to do anything.

Perhaps, but if you want to solve a problem, you need to address the primary cause. If the European rivers never released any single-use plastic it would not have a serious impact on the problem. The vast majority of this pollution comes from the Asian rivers (esp. the Yangtze); if you want to solve the problem, you have to address them.

True, but I don’t have a democratic vote in China, and I do have one in the EU. As the three largest economic blocks in the world are the USA, the EU, and the PRC, and they are roughly the same size (~15e9 $), if I ask my representatives to put a bit of pressure on the other two I expect almost nothing to happen.

The point here is to spur innovations that the unnamed countries can benefit from once they are cheap enough.

Yes, advanced countries need to lead the path so that less advanced ones benefit from them, even if they don't have a direct gain to this they maybe owe that to less advanced nations.

A bit tong in cheek ofc, but showing goodwill can be good for the image of a continent which serves its attractivity and might render its non plastic industries a bit more advance since the path of not using plastic seems clearly ahead (non native speaker here, excuse weird wordings)

Sure they will, if it's profitable. All it takes is EU introducing this and then implementing "we sorted ourselves out, now plastic packaging import is taxed extra". (yes I am ignoring how hard would it be to introduce that change)

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact