EU Plastics Strategy positive but requires implementation

IUCN welcomes the EU Plastics Strategy launched today, encourages all public and private actors to ensure its swift and adequate implementation, and looks forward to the European Union continuing to lead global action to tackle the marine plastic litter problem.

Plastic bucket on beach

Plastic debris causes enormous problems within the marine environment. The slow degradation of large plastic items into microplastic particles (smaller than 1 to 5 mm), which spread over long distances by wind-driven ocean surface layer circulation, has several adverse effects on marine species and ecosystems. Furthermore, these plastic particles accumulate in species and get into the food web, with potentially negative consequences for human health.

Responding to these concerns, the European Commission launched today (16 January) its European Strategy for Plastics. Considering plastics from a circular economy perspective, the Strategy proposes EU level actions (and only recommends national authorities to take further actions) to enhance the reusability and recyclability of plastics, improve waste management and support innovation – such as improved eco-design. The non-legislative Strategy also considers some initial actions to tackle the growing problem of microplastics, some of which IUCN has highlighted previously, for example in its related report last year. In particular, the European Commission proposes restricting the intentional use of microplastics (eg in cosmetics) and reducing plastic pellet spillage. However, for unintentional releases of microplastics (such as from the abrasion of tyres or washing clothes), the Commission only proposes the “examination of policy options”. IUCN welcomes these first proposals, but encourages enhanced dialogue with the many actors of the plastic value chain to ensure further action is taken.

Another recent IUCN report shows that in EU Member States there is currently strong political interest and understanding of the need for accelerated action to prevent plastics from entering the marine environment. This report concludes that there are still important gaps in legislation in the European Union and its Member States, in particular related to microplastics.

“The new EU Plastics Strategy is a step in the right direction; however, it is crucial that the Commission and EU Member States take urgent action to implement its proposals,” said Luc Bas, Director of the IUCN European Regional Office. “The EU needs to continue to take the lead on tackling marine plastic litter and encourage the international community to jointly address this challenge”, he added.

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