This week, the European Parliament’s Environment Committee voted on a set of amendments to waste legislation that is being revised to bring about a circular economy in Europe. Overall the amendments strengthened the initial Commission proposals.

If fully implemented these will lead to a more circular society in Europe, by prioritising recycling of materials, reusable and repairable products, and ensuring that all Member States count their recycling amounts in the same way.

Among the various legislative proposals that make up the Circular Economy Package, the Waste Framework Directive and the Packaging Directive were the key ones for us to follow, given their importance for marine litter reduction. Below is a brief summary of the main points that will have an impact on marine litter:

  •        Higher recycling targets, i.e. municipal waste targets of 60% by 2025 and 70% by 2030, and an increased plastic packaging recycling target of 60% by 2025.
  •        Extended Producer Responsibility: i.e. producers are made responsible for their products’ entire life cycle, and financial contributions to be made by producers must cover the product’s full waste management costs. This should eventually lead to products which last longer, and are easy to recycle or repair to avoid paying higher costs.
  •        Economic incentives for waste prevention: Member States are obliged to produce waste prevention programmes, including economic incentives and other measures.
  •         Marine litter reduction target: a non-binding ‘Union marine litter reduction target’ of 30% by 2025 and 50% by 2030 compared to a 2014 baseline, and marine litter prevention measures should also be included in the national waste prevention programmes.
  •        Land based marine litter monitoring: an obligation for Member States to monitor their land based marine litter and report to the Commission yearly, using uniform methodologies (to be developed by the Commission by the end of this year). However, whether ‘land based marine litter’ refers to litter on land, or to marine litter in the sea, remains to be clarified.
  •         A call to review the Ecodesign Directive: to broaden its current scope (which is focused on energy related products) to cover all main product groups and address their resource efficiency as well as environmental impact. This could mean standards for plastic items that are frequently littered, or a move away from single use items, as well as encouraging products suitable for multiple uses, are durable, easily repairable and finally recyclable.
  •        Focus on prevention and reuse: an obligation to minimise the environmental impact of packaging, reduce non-recyclable or excessive packaging, and promote reusable packaging (with a specific target of 10% of all packaging shall be reused by 2030). This should aid in the setting up of return deposit schemes for beverage bottles.
  •         Provisions to promote bio-based recyclable packaging and biodegradable compostable packaging: these are mainly aimed at polymers, and therefore not necessarily a good thing from a marine litter point of view, as these materials do not biodegrade in the marine environment, and need to be separately collected and treated in special industrial facilities. Packaging labelled as biodegradable or compostable can introduce confusion for consumers, may lead to littering or disrupt plastic recycling streams, and hampers the move towards reusable packing systems.

Unfortunately, MEPs stopped short of voting for some of the more progressive amendments that would have greatly advanced a reduction in marine litter input from land. For instance, they rejected a key amendment that would have allowed Member States to ban or impose levies on packaging that poses a particular environmental problem.

The next step in the legislative process is for the Council to reach its own opinion on the original proposal from the Commission, and then the three institutions must enter into trilogues negotiations to try to reach a text that is agreeable to all. A final text will enter into EU law at some time in the second half of 2017 if all goes well.