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The EU vision for plastic-free oceans

Submitted by on 12 Apr 2018 – 15:59

The European Commission has launched its plastics strategy, setting out an agenda to make all packaging recyclable by 2030, reduce single-use plastics and ban microplastics. European Commissioner for Environment Karmenu Vella outlines his plan to clean up Europe’s oceans

Plastic is everywhere. Go to the beach, walk through a park, take a break in the countryside…and you will be forced to agree. The benefits that plastics bring to our society and economy are undeniable. But too much of it is used before being thrown away. Once littered, it remains in the environment for centuries. If we want to see clean beaches and clean oceans and if we don’t want plastic in our food and drinking water, this has to change.

With the first-ever Europe-wide plastics strategy, we are doing just that. We are laying the foundations for a sustainable plastics economy. Under the new plans, all plastic packaging on the EU market will be recyclable or reusable by 2030. By transforming the way we design, produce, use and recycle plastics, Europe can take the lead creating new investment opportunities and jobs.

European consumers generate 25 million tonnes of plastic waste, but only a third of it is recycled, the rest is incinerated or landfilled. This is quite a wasted opportunity. This discarded plastic could be worth €105 billion to the economy every year.

The damage to the environment is equally worrying.

Across the world, plastics make up 85 percent of beach litter. If we don’t change the way we produce and use plastics, there will be more plastics than fish in our oceans by 2050 and 99 percent of seabirds will have eaten plastic.

And, our citizens are very worried about the impact of plastic on their health and the environment. They don’t want plastic waste in the oceans. They don’t want birds, turtles and sea life getting tangled in plastic bags, and old fishing nets. They don’t want microbeads in the fish they eat. And they’re increasingly fed up with our throw-away approach to plastic.

The new strategy on plastics will tackle these issues head on. We take a holistic approach to the entire plastic life cycle, stimulating design for circularity, boosting recycled content and encouraging better waste collection. We have quite a way to go as currently only 6 percent of plastics come from recycled material. To change this, there will, among other things, be new rules on packaging to improve the recyclability of plastics. New standards for the quality of recycled plastics will give potential users assurance that materials are safe and reliable.

We’re backing the strategy with a strong financial component and increasing support for plastics innovation. We are investing an additional €100 million to help plastics innovation. This comes on top of the 250 million already invested.

To stem the growing amount of waste and turn the tide of marine litter, we will come forward with new rules on single-use plastics and fishing gear later this year. Work on this has already started: we are gathering evidence to determine the scope of the initiative. A public consultation is under way.

There will also be new measures to restrict microplastics in products such as cosmetics and detergents. We will fix standards for biodegradable and compostable plastics so that consumers know what plastic is recyclable and make conscious choices.

With plastic placing a huge burden on the environment we need to explore all avenues to lighten that burden. Among these is a possible plastic tax. There are many angles to be scrutinised, including who would pay – the consumer or the producer, or a combination of both. It is complex issue and will require careful analysis.

As plastic value chains are global and as marine litter from one country ends up on the beaches of another, we must find a global response.

If all actors at global, national and local levels join in, we can make the transition happen. Companies play a key role in making this happen, with their strategies and investment decisions. So do consumers, with their choices and behaviour. Making it a reality is our shared responsibility.

Together we can make sure that plastic becomes truly fantastic.