Big seagull with plastic bag on old pier

Plastics crisis: EU Parliament goes above and beyond Europe’s original proposals

MEPs want more ambitious laws to counter the plastic pollution crisis. That’s the message from a vote this week on improving Europe’s plastics strategy.

When the European Commission released its strategy to tackle plastic pollution, the proposals were quickly hailed as an unprecedented effort to counter one of Europe’s biggest environmental crises.

The proposed strategy included plans to ban unnecessary single-use items and boost recycling.

Now the European Parliament’s Environment committee is calling for more action after voting in favour of measures that go beyond the original proposals.

Below, META looks at some of the measures that were suggested by the Parliament this week.

The full European Parliament will vote in September on the Environment committee’s response to the strategy that’s already shaping up to be a race to the top.


1) A microplastics ban to fight invisible plastic pollution

MEPs on the Environment committee called for a ban on microplastics in cosmetics, personal care, detergents and cleaning products by 2020. In comparison, the European Commission only vaguely mentioned restrictions in its strategy.

Microplastics can pose a threat to people and the environment, according to experts. In developed countries, they are a bigger source of marine plastic pollution than the more visible litter.

Micro and nanoplastics, like many types of plastic, contain harmful chemical additives that can easily migrate into food and drinks. When ingested, they can harm fish and mollusks and as a result they can also very easily enter our food chain.

Sweden and the UK have also recently announced a ban on microbeads – a type of microplastic used in personal care products – noting that natural alternatives already exist.

2) Biodegradable plastics: a false solution and a distraction?

The Parliament pushed for recognition that biodegradable and compostable plastics do not prevent plastic waste in our oceans and should not be an excuse to keep using single-use plastics.

On behalf of the Rethink Plastic alliance, Meadhbh Bolger, resource justice campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, said:

“There’s a lot of greenwashing going on to try and present bio-based and biodegradable plastics as a silver bullet – but this is a sideshow, distracting from the real solutions: reduction and reuse. Bio-based and biodegradable plastics pollute our beaches and seas just like conventional plastics, and should be treated as such. It is hugely positive that the Parliament acknowledges this.”

3) Oxo-degradable plastics not so degradable

The committee also proposed a complete ban on ‘oxo-degradable’ plastics like shopping bags or food pouches.

Oxo-degradables plastics are supposedly biodegradable plastics, which in reality break down into small fragments and contribute to harmful microplastic pollution in the oceans and other ecosystems, experts say.

4) No toxic chemicals with my chips, thanks

Another point elaborated by the committee was the reduction of hazardous substances in plastics in order to ensure that what is recycled is toxic-free and to avoid leaks into the environment and our food chain.

NGOs already denounced the lack of substantial provisions in the Commission’s strategy to address the presence of hazardous substances used in plastic items like food containers and beverage cups. Elise Vitali, a chemicals expert at the EEB, told META last month:

“Our daily exposure to toxic chemicals used in food packaging and bottles can lead to chronic diseases. A comprehensive strategy must tackle the effects of these hazardous substances on people’s health.”