The European Commission unveiled on Tuesday its “strategy” to reduce the use of single-use plastic products in the EU, with the aim that all such products are recyclable by 2030.
The vice-president of the Commission, Frans Timmermans, is convinced that the habits of Europeans, who produce 25 million tons of plastic waste per year, can change.
“If you explain to your children that it takes five seconds to produce a plastic straw, how long are they going to use it? Five, ten minutes,” he said. “But if you explain to them that it takes it 500 years to disintegrate once thrown away, they will no longer want to use it,” he assured at a press conference in Strasbourg.
Only 30% of Europe’s plastic waste is recycled at present. The rest ends up cremated to produce energy (39%) or thrown away in landfill (31%).
The “strategy” presented by the Commission will result in a new legislative proposal before the end of the year, promised Timmermans. For the moment, the Commission has made a number of commitments, including “making recycling profitable for businesses”.
“For now, we can not say that there is a single market for waste in the EU,” said Jyrki Katainen, Vice President for Economic Affairs. “We will have to define rules to exchange standard products,” he added.
Concrete example: the different colors of plastic bottles make sorting and recycling more expensive. Giving up a nice tinted bottle is a very small sacrifice for the consumer, according to the Commission.
This ambition to control the life cycle of plastic from the beginning to the end is unveiled at a time when the leading recycling country, China, has just closed its doors on foreign waste. The EU exports half of its collected and sorted plastics, 85% of which goes to China.
“We should use this decision to challenge ourselves and ask why we Europeans are not able to recycle our own waste,” Timmermans said.
The new strategy also aims to free the seas and oceans of the 1500 lbs of plastics that they receive every day. The Commission “will also take measures to limit the use of microplastics”, found in cosmetics and detergents in particular.
The EU commission also wants to impose new rules on reception facilities in ports, so that waste generated at sea by ships is not abandoned or released into the water.
It also promises to give an additional 100 million euros to research to promote technical innovations.
The Commission has already taken a number of steps to try to roll back the dominance of plastic, in particular to drastically reduce the use of single-use bags.
Concerning the idea of a “plastic tax”, evoked as a track to find own sources of financing to the EU, the two commissioners were cautious. “The better the plastic strategy works, the less money needs to be collected,” Katainen said.
Plastics Europe, the Brussels-based association of European plastics manufacturers, welcomed the Commission’s initiatives.
“Only a legally binding restriction on the landfilling of all recyclables and other recoverable waste will put an end to the landfilling of waste that could be used as a resource”, said Karl-H. Foerster, the executive director, in a statement.