Vella calls for prevention and recycling to underpin EU Plastics Strategy

Prevention and recycling must underpin the EU’s plastics strategy to reduce marine plastics pollution, according to EU Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella.

Vella made the commitment at a stakeholder conference on plastics in Brussels yesterday (26 September), an event held to update stakeholders on the progress of the EU’s in-development ‘Strategy on Plastics in a Circular Economy’, which is expected to be published before the end of the year, and to gather feedback and opinions on its form and substance.

Vella calls for prevention and recycling to underpin EU Plastics Strategy
Speaking to the conference, Vella outlined the ‘ambitious’ nature of the EU’s Plastics Strategy and the level of financial backing for the strategy, with funds and investment coming from Horizon 2020, the EU’s Cohesion Funds, the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) and LIFE.

Within those remarks, Vella detailed the focus of the strategy would centre on the prevention of plastics from entering the environment and increasing the recycling rates for plastics and plastic packaging. A roadmap for the strategy was released back in January.

Vella stressed the need to prevent plastics entering the environment in the first place, stating: “The strategy needs to stop plastic leaking into the environment. We have all had enough of plastic soup in our ocean and rivers. There is no doubt about the urgency, as the picture keeps getting worse.

“A few weeks ago we learnt that more than 80 per cent of drinking water samples from a dozen nations were contaminated with plastic fibres. Microplastic fragments have even been found in beer, in honey and in sugar. We know we are part of the problem, but the problem is now literally becoming part of us.”

Among the mooted policies and approaches to achieving this are the elimination of planned obsolescence, with products being designed with their end-of-life in mind making them easier to reuse, repair and recycle, removing microplastics added to products during production, as the UK government has announced it is set to do for certain items from 2018, and significantly reducing the circulation of single-use plastics.

With regard to recycling, Vella underlined the significant progress that needs to be made to increase plastics recycling rates in the EU: “Today we are told that only 30 per cent of plastic waste, and 40 per cent of plastic packaging waste, is being recycled. That figure needs to rise, and come closer to the figures for glass and metals. There must be the same taboo in discarding plastic as there is with glass.

“Back in 2015 the Commission already proposed to ban the landfilling of separately collected plastic waste, with a 55 per cent recycling target for plastic packaging. So you can expect additional measures to increase recycling.”

Vella called for EU member states to introduce or improve extended producer responsibility (EPR) systems, such as bottle deposit return systems, as well as to promote the secondary plastics market to increase the uptake of recycled plastic as an industrial input material.

Bristol-based Eunomia Research & Consulting has been commissioned to gather evidence for the strategy.

Our Ocean Conference

While Vella emphasised that international support and momentum would be crucial to achieving real, lasting change, declaring that EU member states, the plastics industry, citizens around the world and the G7, G20 and the UN were all behind the need to deal with plastics waste, he also pointed to next week’s Our Ocean Conference set to take place in Malta from the 5-6 October.

Marine plastics pollution is of increasing concern to the global community, with an estimated 12 million tonnes of plastics entering the marine environment every year. The conference, now in its fourth year, brings together world leaders willing to make commitments and bring solutions to the table to tackle the challenges facing the world’s oceans.

This year, as the task of holding the conference has fallen to the EU, the event be co-hosted by High Representative Vice President Federica Mogherini and Commissioner Karmenu Vella, with the main themes including maritime security, ocean energy, marine pollution, climate change and sustainable fisheries.

The conference organisers hope to coax 150 concrete and measurable commitments out of representatives from almost 60 countries on improving the conservation of the world’s oceans at the event set to feature ex-US Secretary of State John Kerry, the Prince of Wales and Prince Albert II of Monaco.

To find out more about the Our Ocean Conference, visit the event website, where you will also be able to livestream the event from 5 October.

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