The European Union has laid out plans for the first ever Europe-wide plastics strategy.
The strategy is being adopted as “a part of the transition towards a more circular economy” and aims to “protect the environment from plastic pollution whilst fostering growth and innovation,” a statement released by the European Commission said.
Under the new strategy, the EU aims to make recycling profitable for business by developing new rules on packaging, which will improve the recyclability of plastics; curb plastic waste by introducing new legislation regarding single-use plastic and fishing gear; stop littering at sea by introducing new rules on port reception facilities; drive investment and innovation by providing guidance for national authorities and European businesses on how to minimise plastic waste at source, as well as scaling up support for innovation with an additional €100 million financing the development of smarter and more recyclable plastics materials.
The strategy also hopes to spur change across the world by working with global partners to come up with global solutions and developing international standards.
First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, responsible for sustainable development, commented, “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. 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 whilst keeping our industry competitive.”
Vice-President Jyrki Katainen, responsible for jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness, added, “With our plastic strategy we are laying the foundations for a new circular plastics economy, and driving investment towards 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 favour of the environment.”
Bioplastics industry association European Bioplastics (EUBP) has welcomed the announcement but said the European Commission had missed chances to fully embrace the circular benefits of bio-based plastics and biodegradable plastics.
“Plastics made from renewable raw materials are a sustainable alternative for many plastic products,” said François de Bie, chairman of EUBP.
“For some applications, recycled plastics are not always suitable due to lower quality or for safety reasons. While the increase of recycled content in plastics is important to reduce virgin fossil feedstock, alternative sustainable feedstocks such as bio-based feedstocks need to be encouraged as well in order to defossilise the plastics economy.”
He added, “In addition to organic recycling, biodegradable plastics have the potential to offer benefits with respect to reducing the impact of some applications on the marine environment. In a next step, appropriate materials, applications, standards, and environmental claims and communication have to be specified together with the Commission and other relevant stakeholders in upcoming initiatives as outlined in the strategy.
“We also appreciate the commitment of the Commission to make a clear distinction between biodegradable plastics and so-called ‘oxo-degradable’ plastics that falsely claim to biodegrade. We therefore strongly welcome the decision of the Commission to restrict the use of oxo-plastics in the EU. In this context, we will also work with the Commission on clearer and unambiguous communication and environmental claims and to increase efforts for better consumer information on the correct disposal of the different types of bioplastics.”
Dennis Jönsson, president and CEO of processing and packaging solutions provider, Tetra Pak, pledged the company’s support for the strategy.
“Although around 75% of our packaging is made from paperboard, we also use plastics as a protective layer and to produce the package openings.
“The EU’s Plastics Strategy is an important step towards a low-carbon Circular Economy based on recycling, renewables and responsible sourcing, and we are ready to make our contribution as a leading food processing and packaging provider.”
Vanden Recycling has called for the United Kingdom to adopt the strategy following Brexit.
Vanden Recycling UK managing director David Wilson said, “As an established UK plastic recycling company, we welcome the ambitions of the European Commission to ensure that all plastic packaging is recyclable by 2030.
“We are also pleased that at a time when some are criticising plastics, that the European Commission recognises the sustainable and economic contribution that plastics make to the European economy. It is also good to see that the European Commission wants to create an economically successful plastic recycling industry and will put in measures to support its growth.”
He continued, “One of the elements of the strategy that we particularly like is the ambition for providing reliable, high-volume supply of recycled plastics to manufacturers. At Vanden Recycling we pride ourselves on already doing this. But we welcome the idea of quality specifications for recycled plastics, making products designed to be recycled or reused as this will help the public to recycle more effectively, and especially quality standards for sorted plastic waste and recycled plastics. All of this will make it much easier to recycle plastics into a high-quality product.
“We hope that the UK will also adopt this strategy after Brexit as a consistent plastic waste strategy in both UK and EU will be beneficial to a successful plastic recycling industry.”