Microplastic litter on a beach

Europe has a new plan to tackle plastic pollution – but will concrete steps follow?

A new plan unveiled today (11 March) by the European Commission to curb plastic pollution is a step in the right direction – but will only be effective if it is strongly implemented.

The strategy is part of the Commission’s wider Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP), which lists about 50 actions to tackle our resources and waste crises.

One of the most positive actions is the promise to push for products to be made more sustainable – something welcomed by the Rethink Plastic Alliance, of which EIA is an active partner – as a long-overdue move which should stimulate the redesign of products and systems of distribution.

Plastic pellets (c) Teemeah

The Alliance, however, remains cautious on the Commission’s commitment to set  policies for bio-based and biodegradable plastics – plastics, which are too often pushed as a solution to conventional plastics but which have similar harmful environmental impacts, especially in the ocean.

A key opportunity in the CEAP is the reference to European support for a global agreement on plastics. The Plastics Strategy provides a foundation to lead international efforts towards a global agreement which takes a comprehensive approach to addressing plastic and plastic pollution, one that includes measures on the earlier stages of production and design as well as for later stages such as waste management and recycling.

EIA urges the Commission to work towards the start of negotiations for a legally binding treaty addressing the full life cycle of plastics at the United Nations Environment Assembly in 2021.

Elsewhere in the CEAP, despite the fact microplastics are highlighted as a focus area, it is regrettable that the action plan to tackle them is vague when it comes to concrete actions, particularly on pre-production plastic pellets, a major source of microplastics, along the plastic supply chain.

EIA Senior Lawyer Tim Grabiel said: “The Circular Economy Action Plan leaves a lot to be desired. What needs to be done to rid ourselves of plastic pellets is not rocket science – and pellets are by far the lowest hanging fruit in terms of total tonnage of unintentionally released microplastics that can be prevented.

“Indeed, we could practically eliminate this source of pollution in a few short years. The Commission should unequivocally commit to submitting a legislative proposal in 2021 for an EU regulation to ensure that best practices to prevent pellet losses into the environment are implemented throughout supply chains.“