The European Commission on Tuesday adopted an EU-wide strategy that will make all plastic packaging recyclable by 2030, but will not include an earlier proposed tax on synthetic products.
The strategy is the first of its kind and aimed at drastically cutting the amount of litter in EU member states.
According to the Commission, the use of plastics has increased nearly 20 fold since in the last half-century, reaching 322 million tonnes in 2015. Waste produced in the EU from plastic material is expected to double over the next 20 years, according to data provided by the Commission.
European Commission First Vice President, Frans Timmermans said simply banning plastics is not a solution. “We need to have plastics, but we need to make them better,” said Timmermans.
The consumption of single-use plastics will be reduced and the intentional use of micro-plastics in products such as cosmetics and textiles will be restricted. The Commission will also create labels for biodegradable and compostable plastics.
Timmermans also said the Commission will propose a set of initiatives aimed at cutting plastic waste that will be similar to those used for restricting the use of plastic bags.
EU Budget Commissioner Günther Oettinger announced earlier this months his intention to introduce a tax to curb consumers’ use of synthetic materials, but the proposal met with stiff opposition.
Vice President Jyrki Katainen said it would be too difficult to introduce a plastics tax.
“I like environmental taxes if they are done well, but we have not yet found a way to introduce a Europe-wide plastics tax,” said Katainen.
Alexander Winterstein said Wednesday that the Commission is looking into the feasibility of introducing a future plastics tax, despite the widespread scepticism about its effectiveness.
“When you look at the feasibility of something, clearly you approach it with an open mind…there are different opinions about its feasibility which is why we need to look into the matter,” said Winterstein.
Exporting plastic waste
Europe exports more than half of its plastic waste to countries in Asia. China recently decided to ban plastic imports, which Timmermans labelled “a challenge”, but also a major opportunity for the EU to re-think its recycling strategy.
Investments into programs
According to the Commission, EU member states’ failure to recycle costs the the European economy €105 billion per year. One of the perks of the new strategy is that it will help boost the economy by creating new jobs and save money in the long term.
The Commission will invest €100 million into the program to help develop recyclable plastics.
“We need new polices and measures to stimulate the demand for secondary plastics in order to ensure that recyclable plastics are actually recycled,” S&D said the Vice president for Sustainability, Kathleen Van Brempt, .
Port reception facilities
Another proposal on the table is an initiative to create port reception facilities that encourage the maritime sector to recycle garbage instead of dumping it while out at sea.
“When you think that some 100,000 tonnes of micro-plastics are floating in the world´s oceans it becomes abundantly clear that we must not waste any more precious time in taking action,” S&D said the spokesperson for the Commission’s Health and Environment Committee, Miriam Dalli.
“Our aim is to create a standard (for plastics) through a single market for plastic waste and for recycled plastic,” said Katainen.
The proposal has come under fire from certain sectors who welcome the initiative, but think it could have been more far-reaching.
ALDE Coordinator on the European Parliament’s Environment Committee, Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy MEP, said in a press release that the EU needs to start with strong legislation that would include a ban on the purchasing of plastics water bottles
“The circular economy, and plastics in particular, play a crucial role for European economic development… Without hard legislative measures the EU’s competitiveness is at risk as countries like China move forward by leaps and bounds,” said Gerbrandy.