Europe Bans Single Use Plastics

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Plastics last a long time before breaking down, which makes them a major problem for the natural environment. This year we’ve seen a big push to ban “single use” plastics due to the environmental damage they bring. Plastic bag bans have been implemented in reasonable places and now the European Union is doing even better: they’re banning the ridiculous use of plastics in consumer goods.

The directive targets some of the most common ocean-polluting plastics.

The list of banned items such as cutlery and cotton buds was chosen because there are readily available alternatives, such as paper straws and cardboard containers.

Other items, “where no alternative exists” will still have to be reduced by 25% in each country by 2025. Examples given include burger boxes and sandwich wrappers.

MEPs also tacked on amendments to the plans for cigarette filters, a plastic pollutant that is common litter on beaches. Cigarette makers will have to reduce the plastic by 50% by 2025 and 80% by 2030.

Another ambitious target is to ensure 90% of all plastic drinks bottles are collected for recycling by 2025. Currently, bottles and their lids account for about 20% of all the sea plastic, the European Parliament report said.

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GDPR Might Make the Internet Better by Eliminating Shady Businesses

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Now that the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is in effect companies are reacting. You may have noticed new messages on websites outlining that they are collecting information on you, or maybe you’ve received emails updating you on new privacy policies. Those notices are a result of the GDPR’s rules around how companies spy on you and use your data for profit. What GDPR is doing in practice is eliminating the business models of some corporations and we might all benefit from these sketchy companies going kaput.

For companies whose entire business model was users not really understanding the entire business model, the cost of direct sunlight may just be too high. Unroll.me, a company that offers to automatically declutter your in-box (while, uh, selling the insight it gleans from your data to companies like Uber), announced that it will no longer serve E.U. customers.

If enough companies follow this lead, one practical effect might be a split internet, with one set of GDPR-compliant websites and services for the E.U. and another set with a somewhat more, let’s say, relaxed attitude toward data for the rest of the world. But even a loosely enforced GDPR creates conditions for improving privacy protections beyond Europe. Facebook, for example, has already said it will extend GDPR-level protections to all of its users — if they opt in to them.

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EU Bans Bee Bashing Pesticides

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Neonicotinoids kill bees, specifically their hives, and the EU just expanded their ban on neonicotinoids to help protect the world’s dying bee populations. Back in 2013 the EU banned pesticides with neonicotinoids in them when spraying pesticides on plants and flowers that attracted bees. That meant that the deadly chemicals could still get into the ecosystem and kill hives of bees, and researchers found that the best solution to protecting bees would be an outright ban on neonicotinoids. By this end of this year the total ban will be put in place.

Vytenis Andriukaitis, European commissioner for Health and Food Safety, welcomed Friday’s vote: “The commission had proposed these measures months ago, on the basis of the scientific advice from Efsa. Bee health remains of paramount importance for me since it concerns biodiversity, food production and the environment.”

The EU decision could have global ramifications, according to Prof Nigel Raine, at the University of Guelph in Canada: “Policy makers in other jurisdictions will be paying close attention to these decisions. We rely on both farmers and pollinators for the food we eat. Pesticide regulation is a balancing act between unintended consequences of their use for non-target organisms, including pollinators, and giving farmers the tools they need to control crop pests.”

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To Decrease Emissions Germany to Offer Free Public Transit

Germans have reputation of loving to drive so it might seem a little shocking to see the nation explore free public transit. The push for free travel comes from the need to reduce the country’s emissions – and soon. EU countries that don’t meet emissions targets in the next few years can be taken to court to answer for the inability to provide clean air for their citizens. Germany is a large country and if they figure out a way to make public transit free then it’s likely that other nations can follow.

“Effectively fighting air pollution without any further unnecessary delays is of the highest priority for Germany,” the ministers added.

The proposal will be tested by “the end of this year at the latest” in five cities across western Germany, including former capital Bonn and industrial cities Essen and Mannheim.

On top of ticketless travel, other steps proposed Tuesday include further restrictions on emissions from vehicle fleets like buses and taxis, low-emissions zones or support for car-sharing schemes.

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EU Launches Urban Mining Project

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The European Union’s newest mining project focuses on urban areas throughout the continent. Their ProSUM project built a database of metals, chemicals, and materials brought into the EU market over the last ten plus years; the idea is that the produced goods can be “mined” again. It’s a really novel way to approach recycle by positioning the recycling process as a mining opportunity. To help companies and organizations understand the plentitude of materials available in existing products (most of which are in landfills or recycling centres) they launched a website the Urban Mine Platform.

The project outcomes are embedded in the European Commission’s (EC) Raw Materials Information System (RMIS) in order to create a more comprehensive and structured repository of knowledge related to primary and secondary sources consumed in the EU, relevant for many stakeholders:

  • Manufacturers can gain confidence about future recycled raw material supplies.
  • Recyclers will have better intelligence about the changes in product types and material content which impact on their business and provide future recovery potential.
  • The mining industry will have greater certainty about the quantities and types of materials needed in the marketplace, mitigating risk and improving profitability.
  • Policymakers will be better informed on raw material supplies, which affect jobs and financial institutions, and how materials are linked to energy consumption.
  • Researchers will have better data quantity, quality, completeness and reliability.

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