EU environment ministers agree terms of Plastics Strategy

Progress on the EU’s Plastics Strategy continues unabated as Europe’s environment ministers reached agreement on the content of the strategy at a meeting of the Environment Council on Monday (5 March).

The strategy was unveiled in January of this year by European Commission Vice-Presidents Frans Timmermans and Jyrki Katainen, and forms part of the EU’s flagship Circular Economy Package (CEP), the legislative terms of which were agreed upon by the EU institutions in December, setting a 60 per cent municipal recycling target by 2030.

Plastic pollution has become a major issue on the agenda in recent times not just for environmental groups but also national governments, which seem to have been injected with a sense of urgency influenced by the public’s reaction to David Attenborough’s BBC series Blue Planet II, as well as the estimates that 8-12 million tonnes of plastic enter the marine environment every year.

The EU strategy places an emphasis on stimulating secondary markets for recycled plastic, while legislative and fiscal measures will be explored to make all plastic packaging recyclable by 2030, to reduce the consumption of single-use plastics - the EU has suggested that it will legislate on the use of single-use plastics by the summer - and to restrict the use of microplastics.

At Monday’s meeting, environment ministers were in agreement over the principal terms of the strategy and raised a number of other possible actions to be explored, including consumer awareness campaigns, increasing standards for the quality of recycled products, implementing green public procurement policies and improving extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes.

On the content of the wider CEP, ministers called for more information on dangerous substances in primary and secondary raw materials, suggesting the same rules should apply to both, and also said that the scope of the CEP’s monitoring framework to track progress towards the circular economy should be widened to other sectors beyond waste.

The final conclusions on the strategy from the European Council, of which Bulgaria currently holds the presidency,  are expected to be adopted in June. Neno Dimov, the Bulgarian Minister for Environment and Water, commented on Monday: “We need to protect our environment from plastic pollution. We also need to protect our seas from microplastic particles. Today we have made a very important first step towards commitments which will enable us to deliver on our promise to protect the environment and the health of our citizens.”

The CEP was originally introduced in 2014 as a draft proposal, but this was withdrawn following the arrival of the Juncker Commission at the helm of the EU in November 2014, in a bid to create a new package that was ‘more ambitious’.

The package was re-submitted in December 2015 and included a target of 65 per cent recycling by 2030 and a 10 per cent limit on waste to landfill. However, the European Council and European Parliament pushed for a 60 per cent and 70 per cent recycling target respectively in May 2017 in advance of the three-way negotiations between the European Commission, the Council and Parliament. The agreed-on target of 60 per cent by 2030 appears to show that the member states and Council won the battle over recycling targets, although a measure of compromise appears to have been reached with a further 65 per cent target being set for 2035.

You can view the strategy - ‘A European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy’ - in full on the European Commission’s website.

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