Wednesday

21st Apr 2021

New report lays bare EU plastic crisis

  • The EU produced 1.13tr packaging items for food and drinks - most of them plastic - in 2018 alone (Photo: European Commission)

A new report published on Wednesday (6 November) reveals that 40 percent of plastic products are garbage after less than a month, and that the current recycling systems in Europe cannot cope with such volumes of waste.

Keeping in mind that about 99 percent of all plastics are made from fossil resources like oil, gas, and coal, the greenhouse gas emissions from the plastic lifecycle production threaten the ability of the global community to keep a global temperature rise below 1.5C.

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The future commissioner for the Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, said that he wants to change the idea that making our way of living more sustainable may undermine our quality of life.

"Recycling is not the best we can do. The best we can do is reuse, although recycling is part of the solution," Timmermans said.

According to the study produced by the Break Free From Plastic and Germany's Heinrich Böll Foundation, the European Union produced 1.13tr packaging items for food and drinks - most of them plastic - in 2018 alone, since only a few companies opt for other options, such as paper, bamboo or wood.

Luxembourg, Ireland, and Estonia are Europe's leaders in throwing away plastic packaging.

"We now need to continue our efforts to design products for reuse, improve waste management and recycling, and move towards a zero-pollution economic model," Timmermans said.

The EU is one of the top global producers of plastic pollution, and often exports its plastic waste outside Europe, especially to Asia and other parts of the world – transferring the responsibility to other countries that have a smaller capacity to effectively deal with the environmental crisis.

Germany, the UK, and Belgium are among the major global exporters, while Malaysia is the main destination for other countries' plastic waste.

'Fossil fuel addiction'

The EU needs "new legislation to prevent the leakage of plastic pellets in our environment, mandatory use of recycled instead of virgin plastic and a plastic tax," the vice-chair of the Greens/EFA, MEP Bas Eickhout said.

The single-use plastics directive, adopted by the council last May, is "only the first step to fight the fossil fuel addiction," he added.

This directive builds on the EU's existing waste legislation by setting stricter rules on this material.

Under the new rules, single-use plastic plates, cutlery, straws, balloon sticks, and cotton buds will be banned by 2021.

However, the way plastic is designed and produced is still largely unregulated - undermining Europe's climate commitments for 2030 and 2050.

Micro-plastics effects unknown

Contrary to the original idea of positioning plastic as a high-quality material, it is today used mainly for packaging and single-use products.

However, the packaging is not the only problem. According to the report, agriculture is the sixth-largest user of plastics in Europe.

The production of fruit and vegetables is pretty much based on this material - irrigation systems, greenhouses, and polytunnels are all made of it.

In Europe, entire fields are covered with plastics to warn up the soil and extend the growing season, which increases the proportions of micro-plastics in the soil, in livestock and food - and consequently in the human body.

The possible effects of micro-plastics on the human body are still largely unresearched.

Earlier this year, experts from the World Health Organization and the United Nations called for further research on this issue.

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Investigation

The story of the EU's plastic packaging conflict of interests

Recycling packaging-waste is largely in the hands of the industry itself, via 'Green Dot' organisations. This creates a conflict of interest - because the industry benefits from the sale of as many individual bottles, wrappers, cans and trays as possible.

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