The European Commission has announced its intention to significantly reduce the use of plastic bottles and other single-use plastic items on its premises. All eyes are now on the European Parliament and the European Council to step up and follow suit.

Last week, the European Commission presented a new Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy, in which they committed to legislate against single-use plastic items. With the elimination of littering at sea as one of the core objectives of the Strategy, the new legislation is expected to focus on the plastic items most commonly found on Europe’s beaches, such as coffee cups, lids and stirrers, cutlery and takeaway packaging. Speaking about the Strategy, Vice-President of the European Commission, Jyrki Katainen, explained that an ‘internal’ plastics strategy is also being put in place to reduce the use of plastic and to ensure recycling of essential plastics in the numerous Commission buildings. His own office, for example, is switching from plastic bottles to tap water and larger water tanks.

This important announcement is a timely reminder that the main European institutions must lead the way in promoting single-use plastic-free offices and institutions. In March 2017, Seas At Risk, together with six other European environmental NGOs, called on the three main European institutions to commit to eliminating single-use plastic items on their premises. In their replies, all three recognised their responsibility and stressed the contributions already made in respect of reducing the use of single-use plastic and increasing recycling of essential plastics. Until now, however, there has been no public commitment to making their buildings single-use plastic free. In the wake of this most welcome announcement from the Commission, showing its willingness to begin this campaign in the closest possible quarters, the European Parliament and the European Council must now follow suit.

Despite the claims of improvement, large numbers of meetings, canteens and events on European institution premises continue to provide single-serve water bottles, plastic coffee cups, stirrers, milk cartons and other items that have no place in a circular economy. A pledge to making the European institution buildings single-use plastic free shows a firm commitment both to a circular society and to the end of littering at sea. Seas At Risk welcomes Jyrki Katainen’s announcement and calls on the other European institution buildings to undertake a similar commitment.

The Commission’s public consultation on reducing marine litter through actions on single-use plastic remains open until Monday 12th February. The Commission is then expected to present its proposal for legislation on single-use plastic items in May 2018. In line with the key objectives of the new Strategy for Plastics, effective and ambitious policy measures are required to eliminate littering at sea. These should include legally binding legislation that reduces the overall consumption of plastic in Europe, with limiting the use of single-use plastic items as the first step.