On March 27, 2018, EU Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) published a draft motion for a European Parliament (EP) resolution on the European strategy for plastics in circular economy, released by the European Commission (EC) in January this year (FPF reported).
The EP and its rapporteur Mark Demesmaeker summarize that, although “plastic is a valuable material which has a useful place in our society and economy,” there is a “wide public concern” about “the way in which plastics are produced and used today,” as it “has devastating environmental, climate and economy drawbacks and potential health impacts.” Therefore, the EP finds that “the current political momentum should be used to shift to a circular plastics economy.” Consequently, the EP welcomes the EC’s communication on EU plastics strategy, seeing it “as a step forward towards managing plastics in a sustainable way throughout the whole value chain and thereby contributing to the EU’s transition towards a circular economy.”
EP’s recommendations touch on several key action areas in the EC’s strategy, including product design for circular economy, creation of a European market for recycled plastics, and prevention of plastic waste generation, the latter section discussing single-use plastics, bioplastics, and microplastics.
To support the transition to a circular economy, the EP “calls on all industry stakeholders to deliver concrete actions to ensure all packaging plastics are reusable or recyclable by 2030,” and “believes that civil society should be able to hold industry accountable for its commitments.” The EP suggests that this notion becomes incorporated into the ‘New Deal for Consumers,’ which is currently being prepared by the EC. Furthermore, the EP suggests that the EC should “come forward with an update of the essential requirements in the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive, addressing in particular prevention, design for circularity and over-packaging.” The EC should “make ‘circularity first’ an overarching principle, also for non-packaging plastic items,” the EP suggests.
To support the creation of a stable market for recycled plastics, the EP asks that the EC “come[s] forward swiftly with quality standards,” thereby developing “various grades of recycling which are aligned with the functionality of different products, while safeguarding public health and food safety.” The EP calls on industry to “convert their public commitments to increase the uptake of recycled plastics into formal pledges.” However, the EP believes that voluntary industry actions may not be sufficient, and therefore also brings up the options of introducing “mandatory rules on recycled content for specific products” and “a modulated value-added tax (VAT) for products containing recycled content.” The EP also emphasizes that “the presence of a substance of concern should not be a blanket justification for precluding the recycling of waste streams for specific, well-defined and safe applications, since this could stifle innovation and discourage recycling potential in favor of incineration.”
Commenting on the ways to prevent generation of plastic waste, the EP welcomes the EC’s work on the “specific legislative framework on single-use plastics” and “stresses that there are various pathways to achieving high collection and recycling rates and a reduction in litter, including deposit-refund schemes or extended producer responsibility.” The EP, however, “underlines that fiscal policy remains a Member State competence and opposes the introduction of an EU-wide plastics tax.” The EP further calls on the EC to come forward with “clear harmonized rules on both bio-based content and biodegradability in order to tackle existing misconceptions and misunderstanding about bio-plastics.”
With regard to bioplastics, the EP highlights the importance of lifecycle assessments in estimating their environmental impact and “emphasizes that biodegradable plastics can help support the transition to a circular economy, but are not a universal remedy against marine litter.” Further, the EP calls on the EC to develop “clear harmonized rules” defining bio-based content and biodegradability of bioplastics, as these are needed “to tackle existing misconceptions and misunderstandings.” Furthermore, the EC should “develop a list of useful products and applications composed of biodegradable plastics, together with clear criteria.” The EP confirms the need for “a ban on oxo-degradable plastic, as this type of plastic does not safely biodegrade and therefore fails to deliver a proven environmental benefit.”
With regard to microplastics, the EP calls for a ban on intentionally added microplastics along with “minimum requirements in product legislation to significantly reduce the release of microplastics at source.”
The EP’s motion also emphasizes the need for innovation and global action incorporating joint efforts by all stakeholders. In particular, the EP calls on the EC to “establish a post-2020 policy for the circular economy based on a strong research and innovation pillar,” welcomes the EC’s plans to invest “additional EUR 100 million . . . towards circular solutions under Horizon 2020,” and “supports the development of a Strategic Research Innovation Agenda on plastics to guide future funding decisions.” The EU should “play a pro-active role in developing a Global Plastic Protocol and to ensure that the various commitments made at both the EU and global levels can be tracked in an integrated and transparent manner.”
The deadline for tabling amendments is May 3, 2018.
EP (March 27, 2018). “Draft report on a European strategy for plastics in a circular economy.” 2018/2035 (INI) (pdf)