European Commission battles plastic waste

The European Commission has opted for a public awareness campaign in a battle to reduce the amount of plastic waste being dumped in the oceans within Europe.

(Pixabay: hhach)

Vice President of the EC, Frans Timmermans, says creating a tax for this issue is not sustainable, and the better option is to create recyclable plastic, remove microplastics, and to make sure things are reused and left out of the ocean.

According to Europa, the official website of the European Union, within the EU only 6 per cent of all plastic waste is recycled, and plastic production is 20 per cent higher than in the 1960’s which, is only set to quadruple by 2050.

Utrecht University PhD Candidate working on microplastic quantification in Dutch waters, Svenja Mintenig, says, “if we continue behaving like we are now, I think it is going to become a very big problem, this campaign is beginning at a crucial point in time.”

Svenja further explains, the devastatingly low percentage of recycled plastic in the EU is because of the different kinds of plastic that are being used, for example, coloured and non-coloured packaging.

“Generally, it is really difficult to recycle when there is a mixture [of plastics]. Non-coloured packaging is quite easy to recycle, so you really do ask yourself, ‘why do companies use coloured plastic which is so much harder to recycle in the first place?’”

This public awareness campaign aims to influence both manufacturers of plastics and the plastics industry as a whole to change their designs and packaging, encourage recycling and make a change to biodegradable plastics.

The campaign will do this by changing the consumer’s practice and demands.

Svenja Mintenig is supportive of the campaign, but is hesitant that there will not be sufficient education that comes with the new practices, especially surrounding biodegradable plastic.

“Biodegradable plastic could even be misleading for people, they may think things like, “I can just leave [the plastic] in the environment because it’s biodegradable’ when this just is not true.”

On introducing biodegradable plastic, the EC hopes that it will not take long for the use of other plastics to diminish.

PlasticsEurope created a report measuring the main use of plastics within the EU in 2016, packaging was far ahead totalling 39.9 per cent of use, with the next closest being building and construction at 19.7 per cent.

Environment Commissioner, Karmenu Vella, says that companies should design plastic with reuse in mind as this is, “the most effective way to deal with plastics affecting our environment.”

At the Our Ocean Conference, held in Malta in the beginning of October, the Commission announced plans to devote more than 550 million euro to protecting the oceans. Within this 550 million, 30 initiatives were created, including: marine protection zones, plastic waste disposals, and satellite monitoring systems.

Another 6 billion euro was pledged by governments, institutions, and private sector companies to combat overfishing, pollution, plastic waste and acidification.

“Money is a driving force, so it’s good that both the Commission and other institutions are pledging this money, and this is also a good example of how industry and policy can act together,” says Svenja Mintenig.

Vice President Timmermans has already begun work with manufacturers in changing their products and packaging, while Vella has pledged that the EU’s plastic strategy will be published by the end of the year.

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