Austria: non-biodegradable plastic to be banned in 2020

by Diogo Baptista

In light of the ongoing European elections and the global fight against marine litter, the Austrian government envisages different measures to ban single-use plastic products from the market.

“Clean environment, clean politics”: this was the slogan on Friday for the large-scale demonstration in Vienna on the occasion of the second worldwide climate strike organized by “Fridays for Future”. With the support of the political green party, the movement has again called for climate and environmental protest around the world, as well as compliance with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015. Hundreds of people, most of them students, gathered at Vienna’s heroes square to call for action.

In an attempt to tackle plastic pollution and make the European Union the world leader in a more sustainable plastic policy, Austria joins the ideology of the European Council and introduces a provisional law to be enforced by 2020. The Austrian federal government wants to initiate a complete ban of plastic bags. These often land in rivers and are particularly challenging cities and communities as well as agriculture and the environment. According to deputy director of the Austrian Federal Environment Agency Karl Kienzl (63), in Austria alone, more than 100 kg of plastic are transported across the Danube river every day. Paper bags will continue being allowed. There will be no exceptions for businesses such as bakeries, snack vendors or any other type of store. The federal government is now battling the polluting and wasteful consumption of plastic and initiating a complete system change in Austria.

While promoting more sustainable production and consumption, the ban would also have its drawbacks on commerce and the environment. It is necessary for individual citizens to take more substantial effort on order to reduce the single-use of shopping bags, cups, cutlery plates and straws. Martina Powell, an associate of Amnesty International Austria, argues that a total plastic ban won’t be fully efficient if society doesn’t actively participate in the protection of the environment by consuming resources efficiently. That’s because, somewhat ironically, disposable plastic bags require fewer resources to produce than paper or reusable plastic bags. Consequently, replacing plastic in packaging and wrapping with other materials such as paper or glass could double or triple global energy consumption and further contribute to greenhouse emissions. According to Powell, more individual effort should be put into re-using and recycling plastics.

Simultaneously, the Federal Environment Agency is developing a plan to forbid the use of microplastic particles in cosmetic- and cleaning products by the end of 2020. Once flushed down the drain, those particles are not degraded and can contaminate the food we consume. Plastic beads for instance, are deliberately added to products such as cosmetics and detergents. In Europe, manufacturers and the Commission have so far advocated a voluntary phase-out, but this has not yet been fully realized. Austria is therefore examining the legal ban on the use of particulate microplastics.

To ensure that the world does not sink into plastic, all actors must work together: consumers, companies, start-ups and national and international politics. “Whether the plastic bag ban will be a big hit is questionable,” says Kienzl. “Sustainable products and manufacturing processes are not yet fully developed. We need more research and innovation.”, he adds. Gaining new insights in the field of green and sustainable chemistry is the most important prerequisite. Green and sustainable chemistry can thus become an important pillar and innovation driver for energy-efficient and resource-saving products and environmentally friendly manufacturing processes.