Economy

“We're throwing money away" - Opinion

Karmenu Vella, Elzbieta Biekowska
January 22, 2018, 3:57 pm  english version Hungarian version  
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Plastic is everywhere. Go to the beach, walk down your street, take a break in the countryside and you will be forced to agree. The benefits plastics bring to our society and economy are undeniable. But too much of it is used only once before being thrown away. If we want to see clean beaches, clean oceans and clean streets, this has to change.


With the first ever Europe-wide Plastics Strategy we are laying the foundations for a new and sustainable plastics economy. Under the new plans all plastic packaging on the EU market will be recyclable or reusable by 2030. By transforming the way we design, produce, use and recycle plastics, Europe can take the lead creating new investment opportunities and jobs.

European consumers generate 25 million tonnes of plastic waste, but only a third is recycled. We're throwing money away. That discarded plastic could be worth 105 billion Euros to the economy every year. The damage to the environment is equally worrying. Across the world, plastics make up 85 % of beach litter. If we don't change the way we produce and use plastics there will be more plastics than fish in our oceans by 2050.

And, our citizens are very worried about the impact of plastic on their health and the environment. They don't want plastic waste in the oceans. They don't want birds, turtles and sea life getting tangled in plastic bags, and old fishing nets. They don't want microbeads in the fish they eat. And they're increasingly fed up with our throw-away approach to plastic.

The new strategy on plastics will tackle these issues head on. We take a holistic approach to the whole plastic life cycle. There will, among other things, be new rules on packaging to improve the recyclability of plastics. New standards for the quality of recycled plastics will give potential users assurance that materials are safe and reliable. We're backing the strategy with a strong financial component, and increasing support for plastics innovation. By 2020 we will have invested 350 million Euros to help develop smarter and more recyclable plastics materials, and to make recycling processes more efficient.

To curb plastic waste and littering, we will propose new rules on single-use plastics and fishing gear. There will also be new measures to restrict the use of microplastics in products such as cosmetics, and we will fix standards for biodegradable and compostable plastics. To stop littering at sea the Commission is proposing new rules on port reception facilities.

We are trying to lead by example by curbing single use plastic withing the Commission buildings here in Brussels. We are phasing out single use plastic cups first in vending machines serving hot drinks, then in all catering activities (meetings, conferences, canteens and catering services). This should result in saving 9 million cups per year, equivalent to 25 tonnes or roughly 1kg per staff member.

And as the problem is global, we're using our international network to spur change across the world. The result should be more global solutions and higher international standards. A mix of pressure in international fora, and hands-on support for individual initiatives, as we did with the clean-up of the Ganges River in India, for example.

But a global problem creates global opportunities. EU industry can establish global leadership in the technologies needed to produce more easily recyclable plastics and to create new products using plastic waste as raw materials.

If all actors at global, national and local level join in we can make the transition happen. Companies are a key factor of success with their strategies and investment decisions, and so are citizens with their choices and their behaviour. Together we can make sure that plastic becomes truly fantastic.

Karmenu Vella EU Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries
Elzbieta Biekowska EU Commissioner for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs

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