In yesterday‘s plenary session MEPs agreed on the conclusions of a Parliamentary report (1) and voted in favour of the development of a European strategy on plastic waste in the environment. MEPs recognised the dangers of current plastic consumption and the resulting harmful effects on the marine environment, as highlighted previously by the European Commission.

In yesterday‘s plenary session MEPs agreed on the conclusions of a Parliamentary report (1) and voted in favour of the development of a European strategy on plastic waste in the environment. MEPs recognised the dangers of current plastic consumption and the resulting harmful effects on the marine environment, as highlighted previously by the European Commission.

The Parliament’s vote follows the Commission’s Green Paper on the same topic issued in March. It highlights the current lack of legislation on plastic which is barely mentioned in most EU laws, despite its ubiquity and all-pervasiveness in our lives.

The report points out that the durability, cheap price and harmful additives in many types of plastic mean that a dedicated strategy must be developed to end the environmental damage caused by plastic.

MEPs called on the Commission to ensure full implementation of existing waste legislation in all member states, and to set binding targets of 80% for collection, sorting and recycling of plastic waste streams. This should be coupled with mandatory criteria for recyclability, and economic measures that would lead to a strong market value for recycled plastics.

Although the report stresses that focus must be placed on the waste hierarchy, and most specifically prevention followed by reuse and recycling, it unfortunately shies away from suggesting a plastic waste prevention target be developed. This would be a big step towards tackling the problem of marine litter, as up to 95% of all marine litter found on beaches is plastic, mostly made up of packaging and single use items.

Seas At Risk welcomes the initiative by MEPs, and hopes that the Parliament’s thoughts on how to tackle plastic waste in the environment will translate into strong action later in the year as key legislation is voted upon.

MEPs also called for biodegradable, bio-based and compostable plastics to be promoted. However, these polymer types are slow to degrade in the marine environment, which means they still contribute to the marine litter problem and cause harm to marine organisms.

Although the report discusses ending marine litter, it is unfortunate that the environmental impact of these types of polymers has been neglected by politicians. By shifting plastic use to these alternative types of polymer, we will be delaying the radical changes in our live styles that are necessary if the Commission’s vision of a resource efficient, circular economy is to be realised.

It is also suggested that the REACH legislation should be extended to cover additives in plastic, many of which are harmful, and the most harmful plastics such as oxo-biodegradable plastics, should be banned or phased out. These are particularly harmful in the marine environment as they are designed to fragment into small particles, which then persist as micro plastics with an increased chance for ingestion by marine organisms.

Coming Developments:

2014 will be an exciting year in the fight against marine litter. Seas At Risk will be working to ensure that the right legislative framework is developed to end the input of waste into European seas.

The following legislative developments are expected:

• Amendment to the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive to reduce consumption of lightweight plastic carrier bags. The Commission proposal has been released and will reach Plenary in April.

• Review of the targets in the Waste Framework Directive, Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive and the Landfill Directive. The proposal is expected to be released in the coming months.

• Commission communication or report on setting a quantitative headline reduction target for marine litter under the 7th Environmental Action Plan.

• OSPAR Regional Action Plan on marine litter: this is currently being developed and will set measures for Contracting Parties to take in order to reduce marine litter. Such plan follows on from the legally-binding regional action plan recently completed by Parties to the Barcelona Convention in the Mediterranean.


(1) http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=TA&reference=P7-TA-2014-0016&format=XML&language=EN

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