Over the past few years, airlines, hotel brands, local governments, and more have pledged to drastically cut down on the amount of single-use plastics to reduce how much ends up in the oceans. But now an entire continent is joining the cause. In 2019, the European Union approved a ban on certain single-use plastics that will go into effect on July 3, 2021. Despite calls to delay these restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic, the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, says it will stick to this deadline.
The new legislation moved through the EU within a year, a relatively short time for a government that includes 27 countries. After the European Commission proposed the restrictions in May 2018, the 751 members of the European Parliament approved the ban in March 2019, Bloomberg reported. The final approval on April 15, 2019, by the EU governments was a mere formality after the overwhelming support earlier in the year.
The ban, which will be implemented in all EU member countries, includes the single-use plastic items most commonly found on beaches in Europe. That means, by 2021, travelers will no longer find the following items on trips to EU countries, including France, Germany, and Spain (to name a few):
- Plastic plates
- Plastic cutlery (including forks, knives, and spoons)
- Plastic straws
- Oxo-degradable plastic and polystyrene beverage cups and food containers
- Cotton swabs made with plastic
- Plastic coffee stirrers
- Plastic balloon holder sticks
While the new law doesn’t include a full ban on plastic bottles, it includes a 90 percent collection target for those types of containers by 2029. By 2025, the EU is mandating that plastic bottles will need to be made with 25 percent recycled material and 30 percent by 2030.
Even though the United Kingdom has split from the EU since this decision was made, the U.K. planned on enacting a similar law that would ban plastic straws, drinks stirrers, and cotton swabs by April 2020. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the ban is now delayed until October 2020.
When it’s possible for U.S. travelers to return to Europe, you should plan on packing a refillable water bottle for locations where the tap water is safe to drink. As for everything else? Avoid eating and drinking on the go. While coronavirus has changed some European dining habits—like ordering takeout from Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris—locals are likely to return to their old ways of drinking coffee and lingering over a meal for hours as soon as it is safe to do so.
This article originally appeared online on April 16, 2019; it was updated on June 25, 2020, to include current information.