EU Commission expects single-use plastics problem to grow

The European Commission says that increasing on-the-go consumption of food and drink is fuelling the growth of single-use plastics and the problem is expected to grow.

Plastic bottles | Photo credit: Press Association

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

29 Jan 2018

Even plastic waste that has been collected for recycling can find its way into the environment, says the Commission.

Currently, there is no clear incentive for consumers and producers to switch to solutions that would generate less waste or litter.

The EU has already taken steps by setting requirements for member states to adopt measures to cut the consumption of plastic bags.


In addition, through the revision of the drinking water directive, the Commission says it will promote access to tap water for EU citizens, therefore reducing packaging needs for bottled water.

It says that additional measures at EU and national levels can be developed to reduce unnecessary generation of plastic waste, especially waste from single-use items or over-packaging, and to encourage the reuse of packaging.

What the EU calls “extended producer responsibility schemes” at national level can also help curb plastic litter.

One example cited is targeted deposit schemes which, says the Commission, can help reduce littering and boost recycling.

It says such schemes have already helped several countries achieve high collection rates for drinks containers. 

Awareness campaigns, measures to prevent littering and projects to clean up beaches can, the Commission believes, be set up by public authorities and receive support from EU funds, for instance through the European Solidarity Corps (ESC).

The Commission has proposed to extend and reinforce the ESC with a budget of €341.5m for the years 2018-2020.

These and other possible ways of cutting the use of plastics, and encouraging plastics recycling, were recently unveiled in the Commission’s plastics strategy which has generated a generally favourable response.

BusinessEurope, the Brussels-based organisation that represents Europe’s business community at EU level, describes the strategy as “an important step forward in the circular economy action plan.”

The strategy settles an ambitious target - by 2030, all plastics packaging placed on the EU market should be reusable or recyclable in a cost-effective manner. More than half of plastics waste in general should be recyclable by 2030 while today it is less than 30 per cent.

BusinessEurope Director General Markus Beyrer told this website, “European industry is fully committed to shifting to a more circular Europe, but the circular economy needs to make business sense.

“We welcome the plastics strategy, which is relatively balanced between environmental and economic considerations, and the intention to look for voluntary pledges to boost recycled plastics rather than immediately jump to regulatory actions.”

He went on, “We agree that any new EU measures should be in line with the better regulation principles, and that an impact assessment should be carried out when measures are likely to have a significant socio-economic impact.”

But, Beyrer cautioned, “However, we would like to see more clarity on the potential EU-wide fiscal measures as well as the proposed private-led fund for financing investments for innovations and technologies.”

He added, “We support the Commission’s intention to first enter into a dialogue with stakeholders on these matters.”

Stakeholders have until 12 February to the ongoing public consultation on the strategy which was unveiled in Strasbourg on 16 January.


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