Plastic pollution: Clear commitments needed

Parliament’s negotiating team is committed to having the final text on reducing plastic pollution approved by the end of the legislature, says Massimo Paolucci.

Massimo Paolucci | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

By Massimo Paolucci

13 Jul 2018

Shocking images of the impact that plastic has on our seas and oceans are regularly depicted in the media. Marine fauna is being heavily a­ffected by plastic pollution; turtles and whales are dying due to the disproportionate amount of plastic they eat; the fish we consume contains more and more micro-plastics, and we don’t yet know how this will a­ffect human health.

Meanwhile, fishermen are finding growing quantities of plastic in their gear. Similar concerns apply to marine flora. It seems increasingly plausible that a few decades from now, there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans.

It goes without saying that a problem that a­ffects the oceans is a problem with collective responsibility, regardless of where plastic is being produced and used.


Therefore, action at EU and global level is vital; this is reflected in public opinion. The Commission, Parliament and Council will be having discussions in the next few months on how to reduce plastic consumption.

Plastic’s heavy environmental impact must be minimised as much as possible, as soon as possible. It is not about switching from one product or material to another, where the life cycle impact has not been properly assessed. Rather, it’s about teaching people to consume and dispose of fewer (plastic) items.

There needs to be clear commitments and initiatives at EU level. Europe must also show leadership on the international stage, since plastic pollution is mainly generated outside our continent.

Unfortunately, biodegradable plastic is not the answer we are looking for. It does not degrade in marine environments, or at least not at an steady rate nor at the same pace in di­fferent aquatic environments, and it never fully degrades.

Nevertheless, we need to figure out if the current proposal, which applies the same provisions to all plastics regardless of whether they are recyclable or biodegradable, should be amended to include distinctions.

Other elements of the Commission’s proposal also deserve thorough analysis and may have room for improvement: These include the list of products that will be banned, the proposed timetable for both the ban and other measures, the extended producer responsibility schemes.

Consumption reduction also poses a number of questions: progress can only be measured once a baseline is agreed, clear data, a sound methodology for calculation and counting and review deadlines are available.

E­fforts to improve all these aspects of the text should be maximised, in order to give the EU and its member states the possibility of agreeing minimum reduction targets.

The European Parliament’s negotiating team is committed to having the final text approved by the end of the legislature. This initiative is a huge opportunity and a concrete tool to show European citizens that our common institutions are able to deliver progressive policies in a timely manner and address their concerns.

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