First EU-wide strategy on plastics / Focus on recycling / Revision of packaging directive / Framework for waste prevention / Advancing global action / Industry associations make their own recycling commitments
On 16 January 2018, the European Commission (EC) published a vision, continuing on from its Circular Economy Package (CEP), on the future of plastics use in the EU. It is the first Europe-wide plastics strategy of its kind. Originally expected at the end of 2017 (see of 22.12.2017), the strategy is based on recycling, waste prevention, investment incentives and leading international cooperation – all within the greater objective of protecting the environment from plastics pollution.

The Brussels authority also published three annexes to the strategy. They include a list of measures and timeline details, recommended measures for national authorities and industry, as well as a pledging campaign for companies and industry associations, with the aim to increase recycled plastics use in new products on the EU market. By 31 October 2018, the EC will present an assessment of the voluntary pledges it receives by the 30 June deadline.

The European Commission has made a general Q&A on the plastics strategy available here.
Advancement of profitable recycling
The EC wants all plastic packaging in the EU to be recyclable or reusable by 2030, in a cost-effective manner. It intends to start revising the EU Packaging Directive in the first quarter of 2018.

Independent of the strategy paper, the EC, the European Parliament and member states had already agreed on an extended waste directive. This set recycling rates for packaging at 65% by 2025, and 70% by 2030.

In addition, the EC wants to take a closer look at the use of chemicals in plastics – especially in the automotive, furniture and electronics sectors. It says that additives need to be easy to remove or further process during recycling. Recycling-compatible design must be at the forefront. This could also be incorporated into the Eco-Design Directive, which regulates environmentally friendly design of energy-related products.

Demand for recycled plastic should also be boosted. For example, quality standards for sorted and recycled plastics are to be worked out in 2018 – a long-demanded proposal in the industry that is met with broad approval. The EC calculates this will save around EUR 100 per collected tonne.

Additionally, uniform guidelines for the collection and sorting of waste throughout Europe are to be published in 2019, in order to improve waste separation. As more plastic is collected, better and larger recycling facilities need to be set up, the EC said.
Plastics waste prevention
The second package of measures is dedicated to waste prevention. In line with the requirements for making better laws, the EC will submit a proposal on single-use plastics later in 2018. There will be support for national campaigns raising awareness on preventing plastic waste.

Attention is especially given to the topic of marine litter. New rules on port reception facilities have already been developed to combat litter from sources at sea. The directive on reception facilities was submitted to the European Parliament and the European Council for adoption on 16 January 2018.

There are measures aiming to ensure that waste from ships or collected at sea is not left in the marine environment, but returned to land for proper management. This includes waste from fishing. Also included are measures to reduce the administrative burden on ports, vessels and the competent authorities.

The EC also published a report on the environmental impact of oxo-degradable plastics. It notes an “absence of conclusive evidence of a beneficial effect [of oxo-plastics] on the environment” and concludes that a process of restricting the use of oxo-plastics in the EU will be started. The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has been tasked with identifying the scientific basis for Europe-wide regulations. The terms for “biodegradable” and “composting” should also be defined and standardised for labelling these materials correctly.

The use of microplastics is also to be restricted. Through the EU chemicals legislation, REACH, intentions are to severely restrict the intentional use of microplastics. Recently, the UK implemented a ban on microplastics in cosmetics (see of 15.01.2018).
Strengthening investment and global collaboration
There will a push to support innovation. By 2020, an additional EUR 100m will be made available under the “Horizon 2020” innovation programme for developing smarter and more recyclable plastics, more efficient recycling processes and better removal of hazardous substances and contaminants from recycled plastics. The EC further plans to make proposals for financing beyond 2020.

The EU wants to work more closely with partners from around the world to find global solutions and develop international standards. This includes continuing to support developing countries, such as in cleaning up the Ganga River in India.
Plastic tax and landfill ban not included
A plastic tax, which was recently introduced by EU budget commissioner Günther Oettinger, is not part of the package. Due to the difficult task of legally enforcing a pan-European tax, it is unlikely to happen in the near future. According to media reports, Oettinger's suggestion was taken up when the paper was presented in Strasbourg. The EC's Jyrki Katainen, vice president in charge of Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, has doubts that it will succeed in introducing such a tax across the EU. If anything, Oettinger might propose the tax in May 2018, along with ideas for the EU's 2027 financial framework.

To control the use of recycled plastic and encourage recycling over landfilling, the EC merely has recommendations to national governments and industrial companies, including taxation and “other economic instruments” (see Annex 2). Moreover, member states should declare war on illegal landfills.
Stakeholders’ reactions
Without exception, the major European plastics associations welcomed the EU’s strategy, albeit with small differences. For example, six top European associations – including the European Plastics Converters (EuPC, Brussels; and Plastics Recyclers Europe (PRE, Brussels; – have voluntarily committed themselves to reach, by 2040, a 50% plastics recycling rate of waste from all areas of application (see of 19.01.2018). For plastic packaging, the aim is for a 70% rate by 2040 across Europe.

PRE president Ton Emans agrees with the analysis the EC has done of the issues surrounding plastics as well as identification of market barriers for end-of-life plastics. Representing recyclers across Europe, Emans says, “Quality recycling can only be achieved if products are designed for recycling, collected, sorted efficiently and treated through advanced recycling processes. Our industry is ready to cooperate with all the interested stakeholders to make the necessary changes in the plastics and waste markets in Europe.”

PlasticsEurope ( has issued its own statement. The plastics producers' association agrees in principle with the strategy, but includes the inconspicuous word “recovery”, which implicitly includes energy recovery via incineration. Specifically, producers want to commit to a 60% reuse and recycling rate for packaging by 2030. By 2040, a 100% rate is sought – but then also including energy from waste (recovery). Recently, the association reported that, for the first time, recycling had overtaken landfilling in Europe in 2016 (see of 17.01.2018).

The EC had left out the use of energy and voted in favour of 100% packaging reuse and recycling, with the addition of this being cost-effective and in turn, allowing a lot of room for interpretation.

The German plastics packaging industry association, Industrievereinigung Kunststoffverpackungen (IK, Bad Homburg;, welcomes that the strategy takes political decision-makers, the entire value chain and consumers into account. The association is also a signatory member of the six European processor associations.

German plastics industry association Gesamtverband Kunststoffverarbeitende Industrie (GKV, Bad Homburg; also welcomes the announcement of additional public investment in expanding the circular economy, creation of a suitable framework for plastics recycling, better quality standards for recycled plastics and more in-depth international cooperation to tackle global marine litter. In the opinion of the GKV, the strategy must now be followed by resolute steps that are binding for all EU member states, such as the timely enforcement of the Europe-wide landfill ban on post-consumer plastic waste.

Packaging association Pack2Go (Brussels; wants access to recycling of its products throughout Europe by 2025, which is primarily the responsibility of the local authorities in each member state. The standardisation of biowaste labelling is also welcomed.
19.01.2018 995 [238820-0]
Published on 19.01.2018
EU-Kunststoffstrategie: Fokus auf RecyclingGerman version of this article...

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