efe-epaBy Carla Riverola Brutau Rome

The lush Italian island of Capri is leading the way in Europe with a ban on single-use plastics starting in May in a bid to protect its aquamarine waters and flora, a prohibition that the European Union will not implement before 2021.

Cutlery, dishes, cups or any other elements which are not made of biodegradable plastic will not be allowed onto the island, as per new law the local government has passed on the small southern island in the Gulf of Naples.

Capri, an island of over 12,000 inhabitants, is one of the most exclusive and crowded tourist destinations in Italy.

As such it has imposed a tourist tax a few years ago to help protect the environment of the so-called "Pearl of the Mediterranean."

The new rule is aimed at "reducing the pollution problem, improve the selective collection of residue and to obviously contribute to taking care of the environment," the island's mayor Gianni De Martino told EFE.

"We have a very big problem and we have to contribute (to finding a solution). We all have heard about the famous plastic island which exists in the sea," De Martino added.

With this ban, Capri is a year and a half ahead of the European directive, which also aims to tackle these plastic islands, although at a different pace.

The European Parliament announced on Friday that the prohibition of single-use plastic would come into force in 2021.

However, the island will adopt this ban on May 15 just as the summer season gets ready to kick in.

The environmental legislation will be applied to the entire island territory, with a special focus on the beaches and coastline, which are the areas most affected by plastic pollution.

This issue was already investigated by Legambiente, an Italian environmentalist association, in 2017.

Investigators concluded that the marine area between the island and mainland Italy contained the largest amount of residue in the southwestern Italian region of Campania, with a density four times higher than in the rest of the Mediterranean country.

On Friday, Italy’s Council of Ministers approved a bill that would allow fishermen to collect the plastic that they found in their nets which, up until now, they were forced to dispose of in order to avoid the charge of illegally transporting residues on-land.

Single-use plastic products account for 70 percent of the total number of marine litter items.

Due to their slow decomposition process, they accumulate in the seas and beaches and are often consumed by animals human beings eat.

Just this week, a pregnant sperm whale died with a dead fetus inside her off the touristic coast of Porto Cervo located in the eastern Italian island of Sardinia.

She was found with over 20 kgs of plastic in its stomach.

The City Council considered that an island with a huge "international exposure" such as Capri could not remain impassive before initiatives that aim to protect the environment.

De Martino said the new rule represents "an important change" especially for the supermarkets that will have to sell biodegradable products instead of single-use plastics.

The council has given shops 90 days after the rule comes into force in May to get rid of any single-use plastic they still have in stock.

After the deadline expires, shopkeepers could face fines that range between 25 and 500 euros ($28.08-561.63).

Other nearby islands and towns are following in the footsteps of Capri, including Procida and Naples among others, which according to De Martino are set to pass similar laws.

"We are seeking to imitate each other to have a much bigger impact," De Martino said.EFE