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What next on plastic waste in the EU?


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. Plastics are even reaching citizens' lungs and dinner tables, with microplastics found 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 EU's Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy is the first EU-wide policy framework adopting a material-specific lifecycle approach to integrate circular design - use, reuse and recycling activities into plastics value chains. The Strategy sets out a clear vision with quantified objectives at EU level, so that inter alia by 2030 all plastic packaging placed on the EU market is reusable or recyclable.

What has already been done?
  • In 2015 the European Commission launched the EU Action Plan for a circular economy to among other measures, develop a Strategy addressing the challenges posed by plastics.
  • On 16 January 2018 the European Commission published a Communication laying out a Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy. The Strategy identifies key challenges, including the low reuse and recycling rates of plastic waste, the greenhouse gas emissions associated with plastics production and incineration, and the presence of plastic waste (including microplastics) in oceans. 
  • In its resolution from 13 September 2018 on the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy, the European Parliament welcomed the proposal and urged the Commission, among other things, to consider introducing requirements for minimum recycled content for specific plastic products put on the EU market; to come forward swiftly with quality standards for recycled plastics in order to build trust and incentivise the market for secondary plastics; to ban intentionally added microplastics in products as well as oxo-degradable plastics by 2020; to set minimum requirements in product legislation to significantly reduce the release of micro-plastics at source (in particular for textiles, tyres, paints and cigarette butts); and to fulfil its obligation to review the essential requirements laid down in the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive by the end of 2020. The Resolution emphasised that although biodegradable and compostable plastics can help support the transition to a circular economy, they cannot be considered a remedy against marine litter or legitimise unnecessary single-use applications. The Strategy sets the following objectives: 
  • All plastics packaging in the EU to be reusable or recyclable in a cost-effective manner by 2030 
- Recycling of over 50% of plastics waste generated in Europe by 2030 
- Four-fold increase in sorting and recycling capacity and improved separate collection by 2030 
- Four-fold increase in demand for recycled plastics, supported by an established market 
- Greater use of innovative materials and alternative materials to plastic 
- Increased use of circular solutions to promote plastic waste prevention, such as reverse logistics for packaging and alternatives to disposable plastics 
- A 'drastic' decrease in the leakage of plastics into the environment 
- A leading role for the EU in the global context of dealing with plastic waste and pollution

  • On October 2018 the European Parliament endorsed the proposal submitted by the European Commission on 28 May for the reduction of the impact of certain plastic products on the environment. The core goal of the initiative is to tackle marine litter at its source, targeting 10 plastic products that most often end up in the oceans, as well as lost and abandoned fishing gear.
  • At the very end of last year the Commission launched the Circular Plastics Alliance (on 11 December 2018). This is a multi-stakeholder platform of key industry stakeholders from every step of the plastics value chain, including waste collectors, recyclers, plastics producers and retailers. The objective of the Alliance is to promote new voluntary actions by industry for more recycled plastics.

What to expect?

  • For driving investment and innovation towards circular solutions, the Commission plans to develop a Strategic Research Innovation Agenda on plastics to provide orientation for research and innovation funding beyond 2020.This agenda will address all issues related to plastics production and use, including impact on the environment and human health.
  • This year the European Social Innovation Competition is tackling the problem with the theme: "Challenging Plastic Waste". The European Commission is looking for problem solvers ready to take on a challenge. If you have an idea on how to reduce plastic waste deadline for the the application is 4 April 12:00 Noon CET.
  • The proposals for the EU's budget for 2021-2027 period includes a plastics-related 'tax'. The proposal is for a national contribution to the EU budget based on the amount of non-recycled plastic packaging waste in each Member State, at a rate of €0.80 per kg. 
  • The European Parliament voted this March to Ban Single-Use Plastics by 2021 in all European Member States
  • The second meeting of the Circular Plastics Alliance is expected to take place in September.

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