European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans gives a news conference at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium January 13, 2016. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Europe gets set to rethink plastic

A newly published EU strategy announces measures targeting single-use plastic items to address plastic pollution.

The European Commission unveiled today its plan to cut down on single-use plastic items such as disposable packaging, coffee cups, straws and cutlery.

Brussels is now expected to investigate further how to implement measures such as:

  • Legally-binding requirements to design plastic packaging that can be reused or recycled more easily;
  • Reduction targets, levies or deposits on certain disposable items to be implemented at national level;
  • A clearer regulatory framework for biodegradable and compostable plastic materials.

Also included in the strategy are proposals to restrict the use of:

  • Plastic particles in detergents, cosmetics and paints, which easily end up in the sea;
  • ‘Oxo-degradable’ plastics like shopping bags or food pouches that break into small pieces endangering recycling and composting.


Source: European Environmental Bureau (EEB)


Europe’s commitment follows an unprecedented, albeit toothless, resolution by the UN in December to end plastic pollution. In Europe, the UK is also examining the possibility to introduce levies to discourage the use of unnecessary plastics.

A recent study found that EU countries dump more than 100,000 tonnes of plastic in the sea every year, of which almost 50% are single-use items.

If governments don’t take immediate action there will be more plastic than fish in the sea, said the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in a 2016 report.

Commenting on the strategy, the European Commission’s Vice-President Jyrki Katainen said:

With our plastic strategy we are laying the foundations for a new circular plastics economy, and driving investment towards it. This will help to reduce plastic litter in land, air and sea while also bringing new opportunities for innovation, competitiveness and high quality jobs.”

NGOs welcomed the initiative but also highlighted the lack of concrete actions at this stage.

The European Commission is showing willingness to tackle the plastic pollution crisis,” Delphine Lévi Alvares, coordinator of Rethink Plastic, said “but it is now essential to bring forward ambitious legislation to drastically reduce the consumption of both single-use plastic items and packaging within this Commission’s term”.

Carsten Wachholz of the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) told META that “Our seas are choking on plastic. We are close to a point of no return, meaning it’s time for governments and businesses to face reality.” He added: “We welcome the initiative, but the European Commission must now come up with legally-binding measures to reduce the availability of specific single-use plastic items, make packaging reusable and easily recyclable, and restrict the use of microplastics.


Towards a circular economy

The EU Plastics Strategy is expected to facilitate Europe’s transition towards a circular economy, where waste is prevented and products are designed to be reused or recycled.

As part of a new set of EU waste laws, member states agreed in December to increase to 55% by 2035 the next target for plastic recycling, which currently stands at 30% by 2020.

The new laws include provisions allowing governments to restrict the use of disposable plastics without facing legal action – something that held back a plastic bag ban in France two years ago.

Increasing public support for the circular economy may have helped securing a more ambitious approach in Europe.

According to a recent EU survey, 71% of respondents have taken action to reduce and recycle waste, while 56% made an effort to cut down on disposable items such as plastic bags and excessive packaging.