We need less and better plastics  

EU cities and regions call for a production switch as plastics become most pressing environmental threat  

The European Committee of the Regions (CoR) has adopted respective opinions on the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy and the related single-use plastics directive. With alarming concerns over plastics impact on the environment, cities and regions prioritise eco-design and extended producer responsibility to combat plastic pollution. Less than 30% of plastic waste is collected for recycling in Europe. Today, the European Parliament is also voting on the proposed measures for a single-use plastics directive which the CoR asks to extend to any disposable non-degradable plastic item.

Up to 13 million tons of plastic waste ends up in the world's oceans every year. 80% of items found in EU beaches are plastics. Single Use Plastic (SUP) items account for about half of all marine litter items found on European beaches. In the EU, around 49 million tons of plastic are used annually. Cities and region's proposals are based on the central role they play in waste management including collection, transport, treatment and disposal of waste. Plastic use has increased 20-fold in the last 50 years. Only 9% of plastics are recycled worldwide.

André van de Nadort (NL/PES), mayor of Westellingwerf and rapporteur of the opinion on the European Strategy for Plastics in the Circular Economy said: "Plastic waste prevention should be the first priority. We must start by limiting the use of plastic products and by setting compulsory eco-product design criteria. We need less and better plastics. We must remove existing subsidies on fossil fuels and barriers to a single market for secondary raw materials. Both make virgin plastics cheaper than recycled or bio-based plastics and obstruct the development of a circular economy for plastics." The opinion has been adopted by unanimity.

EU cities and regions back producers covering the full cost for collection and treatment of the littering of their products. Members propose that producers and importers of fossil-based plastics are made financially responsible for the cost of reducing the CO2 emissions from the final treatment of their plastic waste.

Members support performance-based bonuses and financial incentives to encourage the use of recycled plastic and endorse a requirement for a minimum of 50% of recyclates in the production of new plastics by 2025. Local leaders recall that the current biodegradable plastics are not a solution to plastic litter as they do not biodegrade naturally.

Concerning highly controversial microplastics, local leaders request reliable and effective measuring technology and processes to assess their exact impact on health and the environment. Cities and regions want to ban intentionally added microplastics and oxo-degradable plastics in all products where they are not necessary from a human health point of view.

Local leaders denounce that existing collection systems often do not treat non-packaging plastics separately, ending up in landfills, incineration or marine litter. Members propose that collection systems are based on plastics as a material rather than as a packaging product. The assembly proposes an harmonised approach on deposit systems across the EU to prevent negative cross-border impacts and facilitate free movement of goods. Cities and regions request to be involved in the ongoing preparation of separate collection guidelines.

Members unanimously adopted the opinion on the Proposal for a single-use plastics directive. Rapporteur and city councillor of Espoo Sirpa Hertell (FI/EPP) said: "The Commission's proposal goes into the right direction. We need to make sure that it is coherent with the Circular Economy Package, especially the Directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste, in order to send a clear signal to businesses and consumers. The European Commission should publish a comprehensive impact assessment that outlines the social, economic and environmental implications of the proposed measures. Addressing plastics waste can offer new opportunities for innovation, competitiveness and jobs. We call for incentives and support measures for more than 50 000 SMEs in the plastics sector to develop sustainable alternatives to non-degradable disposable plastics, including, where relevant, incentives for exceeding the targets."

EU's assembly of cities and regions proposes to extend the directive to any disposable non-degradable plastic item and to enlarge it to the entire aquatic ecosystem, including freshwater and shallow sea. Local leaders argue that Member States and their local or regional authorities should also be able to limit the use of single-use plastic products other than those listed in the directive to protect the most sensitive ecosystems, in particular specific biotypes such as natural reservations, archipelagos, river deltas and the natural the Arctic environment.

The Assembly calls on Member States and local and regional authorities to cooperate more closely on awareness-raising measures to inform citizens about the negative impact of single-use plastic products and waste treatment options.

Cities and regions defend market restrictions on disposable plastics imported into the EU. Activities for cleaning up disposable plastic waste should be financed through taxes on the import and manufacture of disposable plastic materials, members agreed.

The CoR requests the European Commission and the EU Member States to increase funding for the circular plastics economy in the next EU budget. The Assembly offers to cooperate with the European Commission on the preparation of the new Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda on plastics.

Today, the ENVI Committee of the European Parliament will vote on the Commission proposed measures for a single-use plastics directive. The European Council aims to reach a compromise on December 20 with the final text to be expected in spring 2019.

Note to editors: 

The European Commission's Communication on a European Strategy for Plastics from January 2018 focuses on four areas: improving the economy and quality of plastics recycling, curb plastic waste and littering, drive investments and innovation and harness global action. It includes the following objectives:

- Revision of waste: New target of 55% recycling of plastic packaging waste by 2030 (waste package May 2018)

- Plastics bag directive: Member states to reduce consumption to 90 bags per person by 2019 and to 40 bags by 2026

- Eco-Design Working Plan: Improving product design to address durability, reparability and recyclability

- Marine Strategy Framework Directive: Member States obliged to monitor and reduce their marine litter

Under the new plans, all plastic packaging on the EU market should be recyclable by 2030, the consumption of single-use plastics will be reduced and the intentional use of microplastics will be restricted. With the plastic strategy, the Commission has adopted a Monitoring Framework composed of a set of ten key indicators to measure EU and Member States progress towards the transition to a circular economy. The EU's upcoming measures to implement the Strategy are listed here.

Access here EC official documents and factsheets on plastics.    

The European Commission proposed the Single Use Plastics Directive in May 2018. It targets the 10 single-use plastic products most often found on Europe's beaches and seas (as well as lost and abandoned fishing gear): cotton buds, cutlery, plates, straws and stirrers, for balloons and balloon sticks, food containers, beverage cups and containers, bags, crisp packets and sweet wrappers, sanitary items and cigarette butts and other plastic tobacco product filters.

According to the proposed directive, single-use plastic products will be banned from the market where alternatives are readily available and affordable. For products without straight-forward alternatives, the focus is on limiting their use through a national reduction in consumption, design and labelling requirements and waste management/clean-up obligations for producers. The Commission proposes to ban plastic cotton buds, cutlery, plates, straws, drink stirrers and sticks for balloons. Sanitary towels, wet wipes and balloons will not be banned but will require a clear and standardised labelling which indicates how waste should be disposed. Single-use drinks containers made with plastic will only be allowed on the market if their caps and lids remain attached. Member States will have to collect 90% of plastic drinks bottles by 2025, for example through deposit refund schemes.

Between 5 and 13 million tons of plastic waste end up in the world's oceans every year. The damage to marine environments is estimated to €6.8 billion per year globally (EC 2018).

Single-use plastic products found most often on EU beaches and in EU seas, which together with abandoned fishing gear, constitute 70% of all marine litter (EC).

49 million tons of plastic were used in the EU in 2015. The packaging sector uses 39.9% of total plastic production followed by the 'building and construction' sector (19.7%), the automotive sector (8.9%) and electronics (5.8%) (EC 2018)

The European Committee of the Regions called for a ban on free plastic bags and to end plastic landfill in 2013 via the opinion Green Paper on a European strategy on plastic waste in the environment lead by rapporteur Linda Gillham, Member of the Runnymede Borough Council (UK/EA).

 

Contact: David Crous | david.crous@cor.europa.eu | +32 (0) 470 88 10 37