The facts, on which the European Commission has based the key challenges for the plastic strategy it presented on 16 January 2018, are impressive: in Europe alone, the demand for plastic amounts to 49 million tons per year. Hence, the need for action is obvious. However, whether the presented strategy will be able to reach its targets, will only become clear in the following months and years, when concrete measures have to follow.
The global production of waste has increased twenty-fold since the 1960ies. In Europe, 25.8 million tons of plastic waste is generated every year, of which less than 30 % are collected for recycling. The predominant part is taken to landfill site, incinerated or sent to third countries. With 6 % of the entire plastic demand, the demand for recycled plastic is tiny.
The targets, which the Commission, based on these impressive figures, defines in its plastic strategy in January 18, sound good: by 2030, it shall be possible to reuse or cost efficiently recycle all plastic packaging on the EU market. To achieve this, recycling capacities shall be modernised and expanded. The Commission expects that this measure will create now fewer than 200,000 new jobs in the EU. In doing so, Europe wants to increase its leading position with regard to separating and recycling facilities and their technologies.
It is remarkable that the Commission wants to achieve a separation of plastic waste and economic growth. Based on this, it sees for example a need for action with regard to recycling-friendly design. So far, very specific packaging with special additives, which are not really necessary for the packaging itself, has been an obstacle to recycling. Hence, an announcement has been made to revise the Directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste.
According to the Commission, the reason why recycled plastic is currently hardly used lies in the concerns of manufacturers and producers not to be able to obtain sufficient quantities of the qualitatively necessary recycled plastic. Hence, it wants to develop, in cooperation with the European Committee for Standardization and the industry, quality standards for reusable plastic. Licensing procedures of safe recycling processes shall be finalised speedily and the safe use of other recycled plastic materials in cooperation with the Agency for Food Safety shall be “considered”. Apart from that, Commission starts a self-commitment campaign for private and public actors to achieve ten million tons of recycled plastic used for new products by 2025.
Consumers is also given a key role within the scope of the strategy. Citizens shall be informed better as to how waste can be avoided. Waste collecting and separating systems shall be made easier to understand. According to the Commission there is room for improvement in particular with regard to the labelling as plastic described as “biodegradable” can only be degraded under specific conditions and that therefore the benefits for the environment are not clear. Apart from that, the Commission wants to ensure that “biodegradable plastics are not put foreward as a solution to littering”.
Before the presentation of this strategy, Commissioner Günther Oettinger drew attention with a proposal for a European plastic tax. Whilst Frans Timmermans, Vice President of the Commission, provided not very substantial arguments, by referring to quickly reduced income, as soon as the plastic strategy had been implemented, the paper, which has now been presented, does indeed contain a review concerning the introduction of fiscal measures at EU level.
In any case, the discussions in Brussels and the other European capitals, which will be held in the coming weeks and months, will give an initial indication whether an EU plastic tax and the achievement of the defined targets will be realised in the coming years.