EU Commission launches new plastics strategy

EU Commission launches new plastics strategy

The European Commission launched in February a brand new policy agenda entitled “European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy”. This strategy sets up an objective of all plastic packaging to be recyclable or reusable by 2030 and targets a reduction and/or elimination of single-use plastics.

Eric Liégoise (DG GROW) presented it during the second day of “Petcore: Strategy for PET in the Circular Economy”, an annual conference, which took place on the 7-8 February and which gathered more than 200 delegates from the PET value chain across Europe.

Among other actions to be carried out by the EU Commission, the factsheet entitled “A strong and sustainable European plastics industry” states that developing Green Public Procurement (GPP) criteria on integrating recycled content should be one of the priorities in order to foster the foreseen 2030 target of all plastic packaging being recyclable.

In this line, in November 2017, the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) issued the report “EPR in the EU Plastics Strategy and the Circular Economy: A focus on plastic packaging”. This document acknowledged the important role that GPP can play in the recycling of packaging waste, by setting up the appropriate regulatory frameworks (bans on harmful materials or products), product standards and labelling agreements.

On top of that, a paper published by Zero Waste Europe already in 2015, summarized the potential that reduction targets for single-use and short-lived plastic applications should foster local economic activity, and generate savings in the management of littering and low-value waste. The UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) estimated in 2014 that good management of plastic could save consumer goods companies up to 4 billion USD per year.

As regards taxes, its key role to accomplish the foreseen goals should not be neglected. Not only has the tax on waste landfilling already achieved positive results across Europe, but the new strategy promotes even better taxation in order to favour reuse and recycling over landfilling or incineration.

Taxes on packaging (particularly for single-use plastics) should also be revised so as to reflect the negative impact that plastic waste has on the environment. Best practices in this regard have already proved to be effective. An article from the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) highlights some of the most successful environmental taxes in Europe, including the Finnish Deposit Refund Scheme (DRS) or the plastic bag tax in Ireland.

Annex II of the EU Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy lists the following recommendations for national authorities to improve the economics and quality of plastics recycling:

  • favour reusable and recycled plastics in public procurement;
  • make better use of taxation and other economic instruments to: a) reward the uptake of recycled plastics and favour reuse and recycling over landfilling and incineration, b) step up separate collection of plastics waste and improve the way in which this is done;
  • put in place well-designed EPR (extended producer responsibility) schemes and/or deposit systems, in consultation with the relevant sectors;
  • make voluntary commitments in support of the strategy’s objectives, in particular as regards the uptake of recycled plastics.
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