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Single-use plastic items such as straws, forks and knives as well as cotton buds will be banned in the European Union by 2021 following a vote by EU lawmakers on Wednesday as the bloc pushes manufacturers to step up their recycling efforts.
Growing concerns about plastic pollution in oceans and stories of dead whales with plastic in their stomachs, together with China's decision to stop processing waste have prompted the EU to take more drastic steps to tackle the issue.
Marine litter has come under the spotlight because 85 percent of it is plastic.
The European Parliament voted by 560 to 35 in favor of banning 10 single-use plastics including plates, balloon sticks, food and beverage containers made of expanded polystyrene and all products made of oxo-degradable plastic. These are the 10 most found items on EU beaches.
EU countries can choose their own methods of reducing the use of other single-use plastics such as takeout containers and cups for beverages. They will also have to collect and recycle at least 90 percent of beverage bottles by 2029.
Tobacco companies will be required to cover the costs for public collection of cigarette stubs, which are the second most littered single-use plastic item.
"Europe is setting new and ambitious standards, paving the way for the rest of the world," European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans said. The Commission had recommended the regulations approved on Wednesday by the bloc's parliament.
The EU recycles only a quarter of the 25 million tonnes of plastics waste it produces per year. Single-use plastics are disposable plastic-made products that are designed to be used only once over a short time span before being thrown away.
Lobbying group EuroCommerce, whose members include Tesco, Lidl, Carrefour, and Metro, said governments also need to do their part to help make recycling a success.
"Without a proper waste management infrastructure and sufficient recycling facilities we will not achieve a circular economy or the objectives of this directive," EuroCommerce Director-General Christian Verschueren said.
Environmentalist group Greenpeace welcomed the ban but criticized the lack of targets for EU countries to follow on some plastics.