The European Parliament has voted for a complete ban on a range of single-use plastics across the union in a bid to stop pollution of the oceans.
MEPs backed a ban on plastic cutlery and plates, cotton buds, straws, drink-stirrers and balloon sticks.
The proposal also calls for a reduction in single-use plastic for food and drink containers like plastic cups.
Under the proposed directive, items such as plastic straws, cotton swabs, disposable plastic plates and cutlery would be banned by 2021, and 90% of plastic bottle recycled by 2025.
Described by the European commission as a clampdown on “the top 10 plastic products that most often end up in the ocean”, the proposed legislation passed 571 votes to 53.
In a far-reaching set of proposals, EU lawmakers also set out plans to make companies more accountable for their plastic waste.
The regulations will now have to be approved in talks with member states, some of which are likely to push back against the strict new rules.
The plan was initially proposed in May after a wave of public opposition to single-use plastic swept across the continent.
Fragments of plastic have been found everywhere from Arctic sea ice to fertilisers being applied to farmland.
Animals as small as plankton and as large as whales are known to eat plastic, and as tiny shards enter the human food chain they seem to be ending up inside humans as well.
While much still remains unknown about the impact plastic is having on the environment and human health, environmentalists have called for urgent measures from industry and governments to curb the flow of plastic.
“We have adopted the most ambitious legislation against single-use plastics. It is up to us now to stay the course in the upcoming negotiations with the council, due to start as early as November,” said Belgian liberal Frederique Ries, who was responsible for the bill.
Under the new rules, member states would have to ensure that tobacco companies cover the cost of cigarette butt collection and processing in a bid to reduce the number entering the environment by 80 per cent in the next 12 years.
Similar measures would apply to producers of fishing gear, who would have to help ensure at least 50 per cent of lost or abandoned fishing gear containing plastic is collected per year.
Fishing gear accounts for over a quarter of waste found on Europe’s beaches, and “ghost fishing” is thought to be responsible for thousands of whales, seals and birds dying every year.
EU states would also be obliged to recycle 90 per cent of plastic bottles by 2025, and producers would have to help cover costs of waste management.
Environmental groups have criticised companies like Coca Cola, Pepsi and Nestle, which collectively are responsible for a vast proportion of plastic waste, for not doing enough to tackle pollution.
Other plans set out by MEPs included an intention to reduce consumption of other plastic items for which there are no viable alternatives by at last a quarter by 2025. These include various food containers and fast food cartons.
The parliament backed the range of proposals with a 571-53 majority.
“Today’s vote paves the way to a forthcoming and ambitious directive,” said Ms Ries.
“It is essential in order to protect the marine environment and reduce the costs of environmental damage attributed to plastic pollution in Europe, estimated at €22bn (£19bn) by 2030.”
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