EU Plastics Strategy needs to consider environmental issues

plastic waste in the waterClick to enlarge
Much plastic waste accumulates in the water
Source: BfG

Plastic waste is a major threat to the marine environment. But how to tackle this problem? The EU Plastics Strategy that is being discussed in the upcoming months can help reduce the input of plastics to the environment if it follows seven recommendations of the European environment agencies.

The Interest Group Plastics within the EPA Network presented a discussion paper on the EU Plastics Strategy with seven recommendations the group believes can help reduce plastic input into the environment. The EPA Network (European Network of the Heads of the Environment Protection Agencies) has established the Interest Group Plastics (IG Plastics) in 2016 to address plastics and plastic waste management from an environmental perspective.

The German Environment Agency chairs the group, and its president Maria Krautzberger emphasizes: “Plastic waste is one of the major threats to the marine environment. In order to significantly reduce plastic litter, its sources need to be identified and measures need to be developed to prevent plastic inputs into the environment. With the upcoming EU Plastics Strategy, a window of opportunity is open to set the regulatory framework for reducing the inputs of plastics into our environment for the next decades. Let us all join efforts to work on the necessary plastic waste management to keep our lands and oceans free from plastic litter. This includes increasing plastics recycling and raising awareness for a conscious approach to plastics.”

Karl Kienzl, deputy managing director of the Environment Agency Austria adds: „We need not only to find best solutions when plastics turn to waste, we also need to maintain the value of products, materials and resources in the economy for as long as possible. Europe-wide procedures and also a stakeholder dialogue are essential elements of these solutions. Plastics in the environment is a global problem. As Europe we can use our know-how and our position as a frontrunner in e.g. waste management and recycling to send important signals to the world.“

The seven recommendations proposed are:

  1. Prevention is the first principle of the waste hierarchy. The group calls for promoting alternatives to single-use products such as coffee-to-go cups;
  2. Waste management: Member states should set ambitious goals within a set time frame
  3. Public Procurement should include environmental principles: giving priority to products which are durable, easy to reuse, repair and recycle. Also, procurement tenders should give preference to products containing recyclates;
  4. Standardization plays an important role in product and process regulation;
  5. Recycling: separate collection of different types of waste and recycling quotas should be increased; 
  6. Deposit systems: recommendation to increase the use of deposit systems for plastic bottles and for new product groups, such as fishing gear and agricultural foils;
  7. Bio-Plastics: The group does not support the broad use of biodegradable plastics, as they cannot be considered environmentally friendly at this stage.

The development of the EU Plastics Strategy is one of the five priority areas of the EU Circular Economy action plan, and is expected to be published towards the end of 2017. The Roadmap for the Plastics Strategy announces three focus areas: decoupling plastics production from virgin fossil feedstock, increasing recycling and reuse rates of plastics, and reducing plastic inputs into the environment. In addition, it includes an aspirational 30 percent reduction target for litter items found on beaches and for fishing gear found at sea.

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