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EU advances proposed ban on single-use plastics

European lawmakers agreed on Dec. 19 to advance proposed rules restricting single-use plastics across the European Union, putting the region on track to join the largest jurisdictions enacting limits on plastic in an effort to curb pollution.

The rules, if passed next year by Europe's legislative bodies, would apply to hotels, restaurants and any other business that offers customers single-use plastics, in addition to requiring tobacco companies to pay for the cost of collecting cigarette stubs containing plastic, according to a statement from the Council of the European Union on Dec. 19.

The proposed rules would ban single-use plastic utensils, straws, drink stirrers, cotton buds, sticks for balloons, some biodegradable plastics and polystyrene food and beverage containers where alternatives are available and affordable.

Tobacco companies could also be subject to rules requiring producers of cigarette and cigar filters containing plastic to pay for collection systems for those items, according to the Council of the European Union. Cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products that use those filters will have to be in packaging that includes information for consumers on the harms of pollution.

All of the items targeted by the proposed restrictions are among the most common plastic objects found on European beaches and represent about half of all marine litter, according to the European Commission. Europe produces about 25 million tonnes of plastic waste per year.

The European Parliament and Council of the European Union still have to adopt the rules through formal votes. Parliament in October passed draft rules banning single-use plastics across the EU, setting the stage for negotiations with the Council.

Formal votes on the rules are expected sometime in January or February, an EU spokesperson said.

Once legislators pass final rules, EU member countries will have 2 years to include them in their own national laws and decide penalties for violations, European Commission spokesman Enrico Brivio said Dec. 19 in an email. Countries that fail to do so could face legal action from the EU.

UK-based Imperial Brands PLC is waiting for the final text of the EU's rules before drawing conclusions, Group Media Relations Manager Simon Evans told S&P Global Market Intelligence in an email.

"We remain committed to promoting the responsible disposal of cigarette litter," Evans said.

Other tobacco producers, restauranteurs and companies with businesses in Europe — including British American Tobacco PLC, Starbucks Corp., Whitbread PLC and McDonald's Corp. — did not return messages from S&P Global Market Intelligence on Dec. 19 seeking comment on the proposed rules.

Starbucks and McDonald's, though, are separately pursuing their own sustainability goals. The coffee chain wants to replace single-use plastic straws at its restaurants with paper alternatives or strawless lids, while McDonald's wants all of its guest packaging produced from sustainable sources by 2025.

Europe's rules could follow single-use plastic limits enacted or proposed across the U.S. in 2018.

Voters in Chicago approved an advisory ban on plastic straws on Nov. 6 that the City Council will develop into formal city laws.

In September, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law prohibiting dine-in restaurants across the state from providing single-use plastic straws unless a customer requests one. The statewide law followed several California cities, including San Francisco and Oakland, passing their own restrictions.

Seattle started enforcing restrictions on single-use plastics in July.

Outside the U.S., the UK on Dec. 3 closed a public consultation on a proposal to ban plastic straws, stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds, according to the government's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.