European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella led the EU Delegation at the third meeting of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) in Nairobi, Kenya on December 4-6 where he called for rethinking plastics and find ways of keeping their economic advantages, “while minimising the harm they do”.
Bringing together environment ministers, civil society and business from UN Member States, the assembly focused on the fight against pollution.
The European Union has announced 20 commitments to tackle pollution in response to a call from UNEP. Demonstrating EU leadership these voluntary commitments cover new policy initiatives on plastics and pharmaceuticals in water, measures to tackle marine litter and air pollution, as well as funding initiatives that invest in measures to tackle pollution in Europe and beyond, the Commission said in a press release. This is backed up by a proposal for a resolution from the EU and its Member States on environment and health covering the management of chemicals and waste, climate, biodiversity, antimicrobial resistance, and sustainable consumption and production.
Speaking at UNEA3 side event on circular economy in Nairobi, Vella reminded that “Europe has come a long way with the circular economy”.
The event, opened by Vella and closed by the Estonian Presidency, with the participation of Environment Ministers from China, Chile and South Africa, stived to contribute to frame global action on sustainable consumption and production, exploring how a circular economy can address resource constraints and generate economic opportunities.
“Today isn’t about Europe, of course, we’re looking at the global scale. Making the global economy more circular can seem a little daunting. There are so many elements that need to change. The answer I think is to follow the example of our climate colleagues. We need to segment the task, break it into manageable challenges. We keep one eye on the big picture, but we get there by effective action in particular segments,” the Environment Commissioner said.
“And the segment I want to talk about today is plastics. They’ve often been the backbone of the linear economy. And because they are so convenient, they aren’t just going to disappear. But we can rethink them. We can find ways of keeping those advantages, while minimising the harm they do. And if we make them more circular, we can actually tackle three SDGs at the same time. We can move toward more sustainable production and consumption, we can tackle marine litter, and if we change our manufacturing processes and remove substances of concern, then we can also protect human health,” Vella said.
“This is an area where the European Commission has been working very hard. Our Action Plan for the Circular Economy made plastics a priority, so it’s something that we are preparing very carefully. The result will be a new strategy for plastics, which I want to be exemplary, and an inspiration for economies around the world,” he said, adding that there are two very basic aims.
“The first is to put this linear approach behind us. To make it not just desirable, but normal and financially advantageous to recycle plastics,” Vella said. “We can do that by improving the economics and the quality of plastic recycling – being more careful about what goes into plastics in the first place, and by ensuring that there are real incentives to use plastic recyclate,” he added.
“The second aim is to cut plastic waste and littering. We’ve all seen the deeply worrying news about plastic waste polluting the most remote corners of our planet, and I sense a profound social change on this matter just around the corner. So we have to help that movement be as effective as possible. If you want a strategy to be effective, you need to ensure you are acting in the right areas, with the right instruments. That will mean some legislative measures, some economic instruments, support and enabling measures, and voluntary commitments as well,” Vella said, reminding that European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has set the bar quite high already, with a promise that all of Europe’s plastic packaging will be reusable or recyclable by 2030.