MEPs vote to turn ‘plastic wastelands into fields of gold’

On 13 September 2018, the European lawmakers overwhelmingly backed an advisory report on the EU’s landmark plastics strategy. It calls on the European Commission to ban certain types of micro-plastics by 2020. The report by European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) MEP Mark Demesmaeker largely welcomed the Commission’s January strategy but called for a ban on micro-plastics in cosmetic and cleaning products by the end of the decade. Demesmaeker referred to recent bans on micro-beads, introduced in countries like the United Kingdom, which show it is possible to cut out “intentionally added” micro-plastics, where viable alternatives exist. Microplastics are subject to a wide debate and there are significant concerns that the tiny fragments can end up in the food chain but little is still known about the impact on human health. The Netherlands, Austria, Belgium and Sweden have issued a joint call to ban the microplastics used in detergents and cosmetics, saying the measure will protect marine life – and seafood – from contamination.

A profitable single market for recycled material

Like the Commission’s original roadmap, the report also says that plastic should be designed with the circular economy is mind, so that Europe can establish a profitable single market for recycled material. “Together we can turn plastic wastelands into fields of gold,” Demesmaeker said before the plenary session of the European Parliament backed him by 597 votes in favour and just 15 against. His report also called on the Commission to set minimum requirements on micro-plastics in product legislation, with an emphasis on textiles, tyres, paint and cigarette butts. So far, the most significant piece of legislation to come out of the strategy is the EU executive’s proposal on single-use plastics, which contains a short list of products that should be banned, including cotton buds, cutlery, drinks stirrers and balloon sticks. But the report also tuned up the strategy by insisting that the Commission should ensure so-called oxo-degradable plastics, a source of micro-plastics, are completely banned by 2020. It also says that the EU executive should draw up a list of “useful” biodegradable plastics products and applications, as they “should not be seen as a universal remedy against marine litter”. “The Parliament today has acknowledged that biodegradable plastics are not a silver bullet to our plastic pollution crisis, but merely a distraction from real solutions,” said Rethink Plastic alliance campaigner Ioana Popescu.

Collect more, recycle more

The Flemish MEP’s report supports the Commission’s strategy but also insists that boosting collection and recycling rates should be prioritised, particularly through deposit-refund schemes and so-called extended producer responsibility schemes or EPRs. EPRs essentially make manufacturers and importers bear responsibility for their products throughout their life-cycle, including the environmental impact caused by their use and disposal. Several member states use deposit-refund schemes to boost collection rates for items like bottles, while EPRs continue to be rolled out in different sectors. The Netherlands is considering launching one for the textile sector. But the Commission’s approach has been criticised for adopting a self-regulatory approach for the industry, relying largely on pledges and voluntary commitments to bring plastic waste down. That has not stopped big European players from making admittedly impressive promises. Recently, UNESDA Soft Drinks Europe said all bottles would be recycled EU-wide by 2025 and that all PET plastic containers would contain an average minimum of 25% recycled content.

Euractiv, 14 September 2018 ;