Europe is tackling plastics waste head-on with an ambitious new strategy that proposes to make all plastic packaging recyclable or reusable by 2030. Part of the transition towards a more circular economy, the goal is to reduce pollution whilst fostering growth and innovation – “a true win-win”, according to Jyrki Katainen, European Commission Vice-President.
Adopted on 16 January 2018, the first-ever Europe-wide Plastics Strategy is laying the foundations for a new and sustainable plastics economy. The aim is that all plastic packaging on the EU market will be recyclable or reusable by 2030, the consumption of single-use plastics will be reduced, and the intentional use of microplastics will be restricted. By transforming the way in which plastic products are designed, produced, used and recycled, Europe is set to take the lead in tackling plastics waste – and creating new investment opportunities and jobs.
If we don't change the way we produce and use plastics, there will be more plastics than fish in our oceans by 2050. This is a challenge that citizens, industry and governments must tackle together.
First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, responsible for sustainable development
Frans Timmermans, the European Commission’s First Vice-President, responsible for sustainable development says: “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. 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.”
The Plastics Strategy is the EU's response to the concerns of European citizens. A recent Eurobarometer survey shows that an overwhelming majority say they are worried about the impact on their health (74 %) and on the environment (87 %) of everyday products made from plastics.
The new strategy promises to make recycling profitable for business by setting new rules on packaging to improve the recyclability of plastics and increase the demand for recycled plastic content. It is estimated that improved collection facilities for plastics and scaling up recycling will save around EUR 100 per tonne collected, as well as delivering greater added value for a more competitive, resilient plastics industry.
Support for innovation will also be scaled up, with an additional EUR 100 million from the EU's Horizon 2020 programme for research and innovation. In addition to over EUR 250 million already invested, the extra funds will go towards financing the development of smarter and more recyclable plastic materials, making recycling processes more efficient and tracing and removing hazardous substances and contaminants from recycled plastics.
And to steer investments and raise awareness about financing opportunities, the Commission, in cooperation with the European Investment Bank, has set up the Circular Economy Finance Support Platform.
Rethinking the value chain
Rethinking and improving the functioning of such a complex value chain requires effort and greater cooperation from all its key players. Industry commitment is growing, with the adoption of the Plastics Strategy coinciding with the publication of voluntary commitments from stakeholders in the European plastics value chain.
In cooperation with the European Commission, six European organisations – Plastics Recyclers Europe (PRE), Petcore Europe, the European Carpet and Rug Association (ECRA), the Polyolefin Circular Economy Platform (PCEP Europe), European Plastics Converters (EuPC) and VinylPlus® – have adopted a framework of voluntary commitments to continue and expand existing plastics recycling activities. The overall goal is to reach 50 % plastics waste recycling by 2040.
Furthermore, the industry association PlasticsEurope has published its ‘Plastics 2030 – Voluntary Commitment’, which focuses on increasing reuse and recycling, preventing plastics leakage into the environment, and accelerating resource efficiency.
To boost the use of recycled plastics, the Commission is launching a pledging campaign for European industries, with a target of 10 million tonnes of recycled plastics to be used in new products on the EU market by 2025.
Measures for marine litter
The strategy recognises the growing problem of marine litter (80 % of marine litter comes from plastic) and includes actions and guidance on how to minimise plastic waste at source.
Plastic-bag use in Europe has already been reduced, thanks to legislative changes. Now, under the Plastics Strategy, new EU-wide rules based on stakeholder consultation and evidence will focus on reducing waste from other single-use plastics and fishing gear. The Commission will also take measures to restrict the use of microplastics in products, and propose rules for defining and labelling compostable and biodegradable plastics, to help consumers make informed choices.
At least 20 % of marine litter originates from sea-based sources. The Plastics Strategy is accompanied by proposals for a new Directive on port-reception facilities to 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 properly managed there. Also included are measures to reduce the administrative burden on ports, ships and competent authorities.
Up to 13 million tonnes of plastic waste end up in the world’s oceans every year. Addressing marine litter requires an inclusive, coordinated and global response. That is why the Plastics Strategy proposes that the EU steps up its work with international institutions and countries outside Europe to tackle this issue.
Along with responding to citizens’ concerns about plastics waste, the Plastics Strategy is an essential element of Europe’s transition towards a low-carbon and circular economy, making a real contribution to reaching the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement objectives.