Discussing the EU Strategy on Plastic Waste

The EU Strategy on Plastic Waste
In January 2018 the EU launched its campaign to transform the way plastic products are designed, used, produced and recycled in the EU. It aims to boost the market for recycled plastics by stimulating the improved design of plastic products, higher plastic waste recycling rates, and more, better quality recyclates, through investing €350m (£310m) in plastic collection and production research.

Each year, Europe generates 25m tonnes of plastic waste, but less than 30% is collected for recycling. Furthermore, according to estimates, only 5% of the value of plastic packaging material is retained in the EU economy. The rest is lost after a single use, costing the EU between €70 and €105 billion annually.

China has recently made the decision to ban imports of foreign recyclable material. As China is the world’s largest market for household waste, the ban could result in the accumulation of plastic waste in the EU, which may currently be unprepared to recycle larger volumes.

The new EU strategy will ensure that by 2030 all packaging is recyclable or reusable, and that 55% of all plastic is recycled. Single-use items such as coffee cups, drinking straws, lids, bottles, take-away packaging and cutlery will be the focus of the campaign. By 2026, the EU aims to reduce the number of plastic bags used per person from 90 to 40 per year.

As part of its strategy, the EU will carry out an impact assessment on a variety of ways to tax the use of single use plastics. There are plans to ban the addition of microplastics to cosmetics and personal care products, a move that has already been taken by the UK government. The commission also aims to reduce the demand for plastic water bottles by improving access to tap water on the streets of Europe and supplying advice to consumers on the collection and sorting of recyclables. Additionally, a clearer labelling system will be promoted to make it easier for consumers to recycle.

EU member states will also be put under an obligation to “monitor and reduce their marine litter,” and new port reception facilities will seek to streamline waste management to ensure less plastic gets dumped in the oceans under a directive already published.

In January, the UK also committed to eliminating all avoidable plastic waste by 2042, a less ambitious target. Under the UK’s pledge, waste such as the carrier bags, food packaging and disposable plastic straws will be abolished. Environmental groups have criticised the pledge as lacking “urgency, detail and bite.”

What companies are doing
Unilever committed in January to ensuring that all of its plastic packaging is fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, calling on the consumer goods industry to accelerate progress towards the circular economy. Two billion people use a Unilever product every day. Unilever buys 2m tonnes of packaging a year, but says it has managed to cut back, citing a “28% fall in the amount of packaging waste per consumer since 2010”.

Iceland, a major UK food retailer, announced in January its commitment to abolish plastic packaging for all its own-brand products by end of 2023. A recent Iceland public survey showed that 80% of people in the UK supported the move by the supermarket to go plastic-free, and 70% said that other supermarkets should follow the initiative. Waitrose, UK food retailer, announced that by the end of 2019 it would no longer use black plastic (which cannot be recycled) in its fish, meat, fruit and vegetable packaging.

Sky, a UK telecommunications company, launched its plan to remove all single-use plastics from its products, operation and supply-chain by 2020. The company’s head of responsible business, Fiona Ball, stated: “we need to take into account the lifecycle of plastics and ensure we have appropriate infrastructure to facilitate recycling, reuse and reselling.”

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