At a conference of the European Network of the Heads of Environment Protection Agencies (EPA),  Seas At Risk presented a plea for Europe to take a strong stand against plastic pollution in the upcoming Plastic Strategy.

During the conference EPA presented its  recommendations for the Plastic Strategy, which addresses a number of measures to improve the current situation with plastic, including the need to reduce single use plastics, improving waste management, better product design, increasing recycling and greener public procurement. Seas At Risk fully supports the majority of those recommendations, but stressed that European Plastic Strategy must also propose bold steps towards legislation that will ensure plastic pollution is reduced. Voluntary measures alone are simply not enough in light of the environmental persistence of this substance.  

Emma Priestland, policy officer at Seas At Risk, presented some of the major issues related to the current plastic usage in Europe. Every single piece of plastic that has ever been produced is still around today unless it has been burned. In Europe, 40% of plastic is used for packaging, which is usually single use and often non-recyclable. Of what is recycled in Europe, 50% is actually shipped overseas to other continents, where the quality of recycling cannot be tracked, and it is often simply dumped. She explained that while a large portion of the marine litter problem stems from countries outside of Europe, often what is leaking into the environment from those countries is packaging made by European companies. While the environmental impacts of plastic pollution are often discussed and studied, there are also severe health impacts which are overlooked, such as the endocrine disruption caused by many types of polymer.

The three main areas of focus for the strategy should therefore be:

  1. Reduction of plastic use wherever possible;
  2. Redesign of plastic products to help them fit within a circular economy; and
  3. Better management of plastics at the end of their life.

The amount of plastic used can be easily reduced by proposing legislation that tackles disposable single use plastic, which are frequently found polluting Europe’s beaches. Such plastic reduction measures have proven to be very popular with the general public. In Wales, 80% of surveyed people supported the charges imposed for plastic bags, and across Europe, deposit refund schemes for beverage bottles enjoy 80% support in opinion polls.

The Commission already outlined the key areas of concern in a Roadmap document in January, and is currently conducting further studies and stakeholder consultations. The preliminary results of these investigations will be presented in a major stakeholder conference in Brussels on the 26th of September. 

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