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First-ever Europe-wide strategy launched to address plastic waste

The European Strategy for Plastics commits to 100% recyclable plastics in the EU by 2030, a reduction in single-use plastics, and the restriction of microplastics, among other goals.

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The European Commission has published The European Strategy for Plastics, the first-ever Europe-wide strategy on plastics as part of the transition toward a more circular economy. According to the commission, the strategy will protect the environment from plastic pollution while fostering growth and innovation, turning a challenge into a positive agenda for the future of Europe.

Notes the commission, there is a strong business case for transforming the way products are designed, produced, used, and recycled in the EU and by taking the lead in this transition, it hopes to create new investment opportunities and jobs. Under the new plans, all plastic packaging on the EU market will be recyclable by 2030, the consumption of single-use plastics will be reduced, and the intentional use of microplastics will be restricted.

“If we don’t change the way we produce and use plastics, there will be more plastics than fish in our oceans by 2050. We must stop plastics getting into our water, our food, and even our bodies,” says European Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans. “The only long-term solution is to reduce plastic waste by recycling and reusing more. This is a challenge that citizens, industry, and governments must tackle together. With the EU Plastics Strategy, we are also driving a new and more circular business model. We need to invest in innovative new technologies that keep our citizens and our environment safe while keeping our industry competitive.”

Says European Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen, “With our plastic strategy we are laying the foundations for a new circular plastics economy and driving investment toward it. This will help to reduce plastic litter in land, air, and sea while also bringing new opportunities for innovation, competitiveness, and high-quality jobs. This is a great opportunity for European industry to develop global leadership in new technology and materials. Consumers are empowered to make conscious choices in favor of the environment. This is true win-win.”

According to the commission, every year, Europeans generate 25 million tonnes of plastic waste, but less than 30% is collected for recycling. Across the world, plastics make up 85% of beach litter. And plastics are even reaching citizens’ lungs and dinner tables, with microplastics in air, water, and food having an unknown impact on their health. Building on the commission’s past work, the new EU-wide strategy on plastics will tackle the issue head on.

The plastic strategy is intended to transform the way products are designed, produced, used, and recycled in the EU. Says the commission, too often the way plastics are currently produced, used, and discarded fails to capture the economic benefits of a more circular approach and harms the environment. The goal is to protect the environment while at the same time lay the foundation for a new plastics economy, where the design and production fully respect reuse, repair, and recycling needs, and more sustainable materials are developed.

Europe is best placed to lead this transition, says the commission. This approach will bring new opportunities for innovation, competitiveness, and job creation. With the plastics strategy, the commission has adopted a Monitoring Framework, comprising 10 key indicators that cover each phase of the cycle and will measure progress toward the transition to a circular economy at the EU and national level.

Under the new strategy, the EU will:

  • Make recycling profitable for business: New rules on packaging will be developed to improve the recyclability of plastics used on the market and increase the demand for recycled plastic content. With more plastic being collected, improved and scaled-up recycling facilities should be set up, along with a better and standardized system for the separate collection and sorting of waste across the EU. This will save around a €100 per tonne collected. It will also deliver greater added value for a more competitive, resilient plastics industry.
  • Curb plastic waste: European legislation has already led to a significant reduction in plastic bag use in several Member States. The new plans will now turn to other single-use plastics and fishing gear, supporting national awareness campaigns and determining the scope of new EU-wide rules to be proposed in 2018 based on stakeholder consultation and evidence. The commission will also take measures to restrict the use of microplastics in products and fix labels for biodegradable and compostable plastics.
  • Stop littering at sea: New rules on port reception facilities will tackle sea-based marine litter, with measures to ensure that waste generated on ships or gathered at sea is not left behind but returned to land and adequately managed there. Also included are measures to reduce the administrative burden on ports, ships, and competent authorities.
  • Drive investment and innovation: The commission will provide guidance for national authorities and European businesses on how to minimize plastic waste at the source. Support for innovation will be scaled up, with an additional €100 million financing the development of smarter and more recyclable plastics materials, making recycling processes more efficient and tracing and removing hazardous substances and contaminants from recycled plastics.
  • Spur change across the world: As the EU does its own homework, it will also work with partners from around the world to come up with global solutions and develop international standards. It will also continue to support others, as it has done with the cleanup of the Ganges River in India.

Next steps

The proposed directive on port reception facilities will now go to the European Parliament and Council for adoption.

Subject to Better Regulation requirements, the commission will present the proposal on single-use plastics later in 2018. After public comment, the commission will launch the work on the revision of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive and prepare guidelines on separate collection and sorting of waste to be issued in 2019.

For the full list of measures and their timeline, see the Annex to the Plastics Strategy.

Continuing in the spirit of the 2015 Circular Economy Package, the Plastics Strategy has been prepared by a core project team of Timmermans and Katainen, along with commissioners Karmenu Vella and Elżbieta Bieńkowska. Many other commissioners were also involved in its preparation and helped identify the most effective tools covering a wide range of policy areas.

For more information

A European Plastics Strategy: Questions & Answers

Fact Sheets

Plastics Strategy

Report on Oxo-Plastics

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