MEPs recommend using economic instruments such as taxes and levies, marketing restrictions or bans.
Plastic carrier bag litter is a major environmental concern, known to affect water bodies and aquatic eco-systems in particular, the EU Commission says.
Lead MEP, Margrete Auken, said: “MEPs have voted for EU legislation that would deliver a significant and swift reduction in single-use plastic bags. As front-running countries in the EU and beyond have demonstrated, dramatically reducing the consumption of these plastic bags is easily achievable with a coherent policy.
“Swiftly phasing-out these bags is a very low-hanging fruit on the list of solutions to the pervasive problem of plastic waste in the environment.
“MEPs also supported provisions to ensure mandatory pricing of plastic bags in the food sector, as well as a strong recommendation to do so in the non-food sector, too. Putting a price on single-use bags is a proven and highly effective policy tool for reducing their excessive consumption,” she added.
Lead MEP, Margrete Auken – “Swiftly phasing-out these bags is a very low-hanging fruit on the list of solutions to the pervasive problem of plastic waste in the environment”
MEPs say that lightweight plastic bags with a thickness below 50 microns, which represent the vast majority of plastic carrier bags consumed in the Union, are less re-usable than thicker models and become waste more quickly. They are also more prone to littering and to end up scattered in the environment.
Member states would have to reduce their consumption by at least 50 percent by 2017 and by 80 percent two years later.
MEPs suggest member states should take measures, such as taxes, levies, marketing restrictions or bans, to ensure that shops do not provide for plastic bags free of charge, except ones used to wrap loose foods such as raw meat, fish and dairy products.
Plastic bags used to wrap foods such as fruits, vegetables and confectionery would be replaced by 2019 by carrier bags made of recycled paper or biodegradable and compostable bags.
Requirements concerning compostable and biodegradable packaging should be amended, MEPs say.
According to the EU Commission, in 2010 every EU citizen used an estimated 198 plastic carrier bags, some 90 percent of which were lightweight; these are less frequently re-used than thicker bags and more prone to littering.
In a business-as-usual scenario, consumption of plastic bags is expected to increase further. Estimates also suggest that in 2010, over 8bn plastic carrier bags became litter in the EU.