MEPs fight to curb plastic pollution but miss key opportunity on microplastics

Posted on 10 October 2018

The implementation of the single-use plastics directive and the concrete results it will achieve to reduce plastic in nature have been left unclear
Brussels, Belgium - 10 October 2018

Today, the European Parliament's Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) voted on the European Commission’s single-use plastic proposal

WWF welcomes the results of the vote, which strengthen the European Commission’s proposal, released in May of this year in line with its strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy. Key highlights include:
  • The establishment of extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes. Producers of single-use plastic packaging will be required to support the costs of cleaning up the litter that results from these products, a process currently paid for by public authorities across the EU. A level playing field to reduce and eliminate plastic litter from nature is needed across the EU, and EPR schemes are a positive step in this direction.
  • A full ban on lightweight plastic bags, and food and beverage containers made of styrofoam. These products remain in nature for hundreds of years, releasing greenhouse gases and other toxins as they degrade into microplastics.
  • Measures to effectively collect and properly dispose of 90% of plastic bottles produced in the EU by 2025, such as deposit-refund schemes.
  • A minimum annual collection rate of 50% for fishing gear containing plastic starting in 2025 and a minimum recycling target of 15% for fishing gear containing plastic by 2025. To achieve these goals, Member States may implement deposit-refund schemes, monitoring or tracking programmes, or support reusable and recyclable fishing gear entering the market.

However, the definition of “biodegradable plastics” adopted by today’s vote does not go far enough to prevent these kinds of plastics degrading in to microplastics, a key issue in our ocean’s food web with implications for both wildlife and human health. Further to this, today’s vote has failed to establish reduction targets for consumption of single-use plastic items in the first place. The implementation of the directive and the concrete results it will achieve to reduce plastic in nature (whether biodegradable or not) have been left unclear.

Samantha Burgess, Head of Marine Policy at WWF European Policy Office said: “Marine biodiversity is at a cliff edge - with multiple species and whole generations impacted by plastic in the ocean. To successfully fight plastic pollution, we need a clear, common understanding and ambitious, robust targets to reduce both production and consumption. We encourage the EU and its Member States to ensure there are no legal loopholes in the definitions of plastic materials.”

Today’s ENVI Committee vote will be confirmed in plenary session, taking place at the end of the month.

Once adopted, strong EU legislation supported by clear national targets would also define the EU’s position to support the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) process to eliminate plastic leakage into the ocean, and call for a “Paris Agreement for Our Ocean.”


Notes to editors:

Europe (EU-28, Norway and Switzerland) is the world’s second largest plastic producer after China, generating 27 million tonnes of plastic waste in 2016 alone. These levels of pollution impact not only our wildlife, but key marine industries: the EU fishing fleet currently suffers an estimated annual economic loss of € 61.7 million due to reduced catch and damage to vessels.

Plastic represents 95% of the waste in Mediterranean waters and on its beaches today, with over 130 different marine species known to have ingested plastic. 

(Out of the plastic trap, WWF 2018)

Larissa Milo-Dale
Marine Communications Officer
+32 483 26 20 86
Europe is the second largest plastics producer in the world, after China, dumping 150,000-500,000 tonnes of macroplastics and 70,000-130,000 tonnes of microplastics in the sea every year.
© Milos Bicanski / WWF-UK