EU adopts new plastics strategy

European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans © Dutch Government/Martijn Beekman
European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans © Dutch Government/Martijn Beekman

The European Commission has adopted a new EU-wide strategy on plastics, in pursuit of a more circular economy.

The strategy aims to address the escalating problem of plastic pollution, and also to demonstrate the business case for transforming the way that products are designed, produced, used and recycled. Each year, Europeans generate 25 million tonnes of plastic waste, and only 30% is collected for recycling, meaning that a comprehensive new strategy is urgently needed.

The current process of development, use and discarding of plastic products ‘fails the capture the economic benefits of a more circular approach’, the commission said. The strategy proposes a number of comprehensive reforms to policy, and – as well as improvements to infrastructure – suggests an approach which also prioritises citizen engagement activities to encourage recycling.

In addition to the strategy document, the initiatives adopted today include:

  • A communication on a European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy;
  • A communication on the interface between chemicals, products and waste;
  • A monitoring framework on the Circular Economy; and
  • A new directive on port reception facilities.

The latter directive will go to the European Parliament for adoption, while a public consultation will continue until 12 February.

What did the European Commission say?

Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said that the new strategy was vital to motivating rapid action against plastic waste and encouraging collaboration to provide solutions: “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.”

He added that the new strategy would emphasise the EU’s circular economy ambitions: “With the EU Plastics Strategy we are 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.”

Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen explained the positive impact that implementing the strategy would have on the environment: “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.”

What changes will the plastics strategy bring?

The structure of the strategy is constructed around five primary goals. These aims will see the EU:

  • Make recycling more profitable for businesses
  • Curb plastic waste
  • Stop littering at sea
  • Drive investment and innovation
  • Inspire change across the world

Achieving these aims will require sweeping new legislation in some areas, and wider stakeholder participation and engagement. The commission will introduce new rules on packaging to improve the recyclability of plastics that are currently in use on the market, and to restrict some single-use plastics and the use of microplastics in certain products.

With more demand for recycling and more plastic being recycled, the EU will also make efforts to improve Europe’s recycling facilities, and standardise a system for collection and sorting of waste. In addition, it will scale up funding and offer an addition €100 million towards financing the development of smarter and more recyclable plastic materials.

The strategy follows the UK’s announcement last week that it would pursue its own plan to reduce plastics.

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