Actor Jeremy Irons is lending his voice to an EU campaign to ban non-recyclable plastics, including plastic bags, in an effort to end the growing mountain of plastic waste in our environment.

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Europe may seek to ban non-recylable plastics, including plastic bags, in an effort to end the ever-growing mountain of plastic waste in our environment, writes Channel 4 News Science Editor Tom Clarke.

Today Europe's environment commissioner Janez Potocnik is launching a consultation on Europe's waste laws directed at radically reducing plastic waste.

A fairly dry initiative, even by European standards, is being given extra sparkle by the presence at the launch of Oscar-winning British actor Jeremy Irons. Mr Irons is leading a campaign against plastic waste following on from his documentary Trashed (below(, which premiered at the Cannes film festival last year.

According to Commissioner Potocnik, the time has come "to make plastic part of the solution rather than part of the problem".

Land-filled or burned

While recycling of plastic has increased across Europe, including the UK, more than 65 per cent of all the plastic we throw away is land-filled or burned. Elsewhere in the world, recycling rates are even lower. But unlike other forms of waste, nearly all plastics don't break down in the environment.

According to government figures, around 13 billion plastic bags are handed out every year, most of which are land-filled. Once buried, they can take centuries to break down.

Global estimates suggest 10 million tonnes of plastic litter ends up in the world's oceans annually. Much of this plastic ends up in vast floating mats of plastic in Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Once it breaks down into smaller fragments it can poison fish and other marine animals.

The Welsh government introduced a 5p minimum charge on all single-use bags (including paper bags) from 1 October 2011. 
Since the charge was introduced, carrier bag use in Wales has reduced by as much as 96% in some retail sectors, and a recent survey of attitudes indicated that the charge is now supported by around 70% of people in Wales.
Many retailers have passed proceeds from the 5p charge on to environmental or good causes. Latest figures from RSPB and Keep Wales Tidy show that collectively they have already received more than £800K in donations as a direct result. This money has come from the proceeds of bag sales at major retailers including Tesco, McDonalds, Argos, Asda and Wilkinson.

The commission wants to review rules on plastic recycling. It will also examine new rules for plastic manufacturers that will ensure more of it is recyclable and how the biodegradability of plastic can be improved to ensure it doesn't persist in the environment.

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