EU targets single-use plastics in an urgent clean-up plan

BRUSSELS -- The EU is waging war against plastic waste as part of an urgent plan to clean up Europe’s act and ensure that every piece of packaging on the continent is reusable or recyclable by 2030.

Following China’s decision to ban imports of foreign recyclable material, Brussels on Tuesday launched a plastics strategy designed to change minds in Europe, potentially tax damaging behaviour, and modernise plastics production and collection by investing €350m (£310m) in research.

Speaking to the Guardian and four other European newspapers, the vice-president of the commission, Frans Timmermans, said Brussels’ priority was to clamp down on “single-use plastics that take five seconds to produce, you use it for five minutes and it takes 500 years to break down again.”

In the EU’s sights, Timmermans said, were throw-away items such as drinking straws, “lively colored” bottles that do not degrade, coffee cups, lids and stirrers, cutlery and takeaway packaging.

The former Dutch diplomat told the Guardian: “If we don’t do anything about this, 50 years down the road we will have more plastic than fish in the oceans.”

As part of its strategy, the EU will carry out an impact assessment on a variety of ways to tax the use of single-use plastics, although details on potential models were notably lacking from the published strategy documents.

Last week, the budget commissioner, Günther Oettinger, claimed that a levy on plastics could be one way in which Brussels could fill the €13bn hole in its budget left by the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

The EU wants 55% of all plastic to be recycled by 2030 and for member states to reduce the use of bags per person from 90 a year to 40 by 2026.

An additional €100m is being made available on top of current spending to research better designs, durability and recyclability and EU member states will be put under an obligation to “monitor and reduce their marine litter”.

The commission said it will promote easy access to tap water on the streets of Europe to reduce demand for bottled water, and they will provide member states with additional guidance on how to improve the sorting and collection of recyclable plastic by consumers.

The EU’s executive is also to propose new clearer labelling for plastic packaging so consumers are clear about their recyclability, and there are plans to ban the addition of microplastics to cosmetics and personal care products, a move that has already been taken by the UK government.

 New port reception facilities will seek to streamline waste management to ensure less gets dumped in the oceans under a directive already published.

Every year, Europeans generate 25m tonnes of plastic waste, but less than 30% is collected for recycling. Across the world, plastics make up 85% of beach litter.