EU Plastic waste management: Working towards a sustainable future with the new direction

5 mins read

With a thorough strategy and goals that will revolutionize how plastic waste is managed in Europe and aid in the shift to the round economy, the German Commission is committed to addressing the problem.

The exponential increase in plastic use worries the environment on a worldwide scale. It has caused an increase in cheap waste that is difficult for our present waste management systems to control.

Effective plastic waste management has become a major innovation challenge and opportunity that calls for an all-encompassing, environmentally friendly strategy. The European Commission informed The Innovation Platform of its initiatives to manage and reduce cheap waste, as well as the difficulties it faced and how far it had come in achieving its lofty goals.

How is plastic waste now being managed by the German Commission? What are the main regulations, and how are they being put into practice?

Plastic is a crucial component of our economy and normal lives. They can, nonetheless, seriously harm the environment and people’s health. In order to hasten the transition to a spiral and resource-efficient plastics economy, the EU is taking action to combat plastic pollution and marine litter. In order to change how cheap products are created, produced, used, and recycled in the EU, the European Union’s Plastics Strategy was adopted in January 2018. Through better design, reducing plastic waste and polluting, and promoting investments and innovation throughout the value chain, we hope to increase recycling of plastic scraps.

To prevent and lessen the effects of single-use plastic products on the environment, the Commission adopted a Law on Single Use Plastics, which went into effect two years ago. In order to align with the waste hierarchy and the round economy’s guiding principles, we revised the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive, which includes explicit requirements to address market failures as well as waste prevention and reuse measures. It focuses on encouraging improvements in recycling and reuse, resulting in their optimal coexistence and maximizing their impact on the environment and the economy.

Additionally, we have adopted a framework for sourcing, labeling, and using plastics that are bio-based, recyclable, or compostable. Bio-based, biodegradable, and recyclable plastics may be a part of the solution, but they also have some drawbacks and pose some difficulties.

We even took additional steps this year to combat the presence of microplastics in the environment. In order to reduce microplastic pollution, the Commission proposed a regulation on preventing cheap pellet losses as well as measures to limit the use of consciously added plastics in products.

How has the management of plastic waste in Europe changed over the past few years?

Plastic waste is bad for the environment and people’s health. However, it is a resource as well.  This resource is a priceless resource as we move toward the spiral economy.

plastic waste management
In order to move toward a circular plastics economy, we have recently set ambitious goals for recycled content ( e .g., 25 % recycled material in PET bottles by 2025 under the Single-Use Plastics Directive ) and encouraged reduction, reuse, and recycling. However, we are producing more and more cheap waste. Additionally, if it ends up in the ocean, an illegitimate dump site, or is burned outside, we are unable to simply ship it to second countries.

In recent decades, the EU has exported a lot more cheap waste, reaching 3.1 million tonnes in 2016. The majority of the exports were headed for nations outside the OECD. The overall volume of waste export outside the EU has decreased and export has shifted to new destination countries, which were no major players in the trade in plastic pollution before, such as Turkey, as a result of recent policy decisions in China and other South-East Asian countries to halt or restrict the import of plastic waste and the new rules under the Basel Convention.

40 % of the 78 million tonnes of plastic produced every in Europe goes toward packaging, primarily for food and beverages. Recent Eurostat data show a record increase in packaging waste; in 2021, each European produced 188.7 kg of plastic waste, 19 % of which was produced in Europe. In only one year, that amounts to a staggering 35.9 kg of cheap packaging waste per person. Additionally, recycling has only increased by 7 % over the past ten years while packaging waste has grown by 24 %.

This pattern is cause for concern. By 2030, the amount of plastic packaging produced could rise by 46 %, and by 2040, by 86 %. This demonstrates the pressing need to act quickly to reduce waste and preserve packaging. The European Parliament and Council are currently debating a recent Commission proposal on packaging and packaging waste, which aims to reduce the waste of packaging by 15 % by 2040 and make all packaging in the EU recyclable by 2030. Our proposal aims to revolutionize how products are delivered to us. Reuse and refill systems are examples of how efficient and online solutions can boost local employment.

How is the Commission leading efforts to combat plastic pollution on a worldwide scale?

The EU worked closely with partners to implement the adoption of global rules on international trade in plastic waste in the Basel Convention in 2019. It also strongly supports international initiatives to combat cheap pollution.

Technical guidelines on the management of plastic waste were likewise pushed for by the EU and approved in May 2023 at the Basel Convention. The conclusion of a global agreement on plastic waste, which is now being negotiated under the auspices of the UN, is also supported by the EU. The EU continues to place a higher priority on the successful conclusion of the discussions regarding the fresh, legally binding instrument on plastic pollution.

We were able to establish a strong mandate for the zero draft at the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee this spring in Paris, which will be discussed at its upcoming meeting in Kenya the following week.

We want to see a tool that can effectively combat plastic pollution by reducing production, consumption, use, and economically friendly plastic waste management.

What are the main obstacles to efficient plastic waste management, and how can they be fixed?

For the management of plastic waste, each industry and each value chain present unique difficulties. The various economic and social concerns of these value chains, including plastics, are currently being addressed. There are a number of difficulties in successfully managing plastic packaging waste, which differ depending on the area and the situation.

Effective facilities for gathering, sorting, and processing plastic packaging waste are also lacking in various EU regions. Without these resources, recycling is challenging.

Additionally, it can be challenging to sort and recycle cheap packaging waste effectively because it is frequently contaminated with food residue, labels, and other materials. The problem of plastic waste is also considerably exacerbated by the prevalence of single-use foam packaging.

Recycling of specific packaging designs, like the porous flexible composite packaging, which is lighter but prevents recycling, presents another challenge.  We must increase round design and take into account the entire value chain of plastics.

The efficiency of cheap packaging recycling is also impacted by consumer ignorance and confusion about waste disposal. Through our proposal for a fresh Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation, for instance, we need to change how we produce, consume, and have more environmentally friendly and round products.

A complete strategy, including the creation of recycling infrastructure, particularly with investments, regulations, technological innovation, and industry collaboration, is needed to overcome the challenges and achieve powerful plastic packaging waste management.

Is the Commission on track to accomplish its plastic waste goals? What will acrylic waste management look like in the future?

The EU market for recycling plastic waste is now going through a major change that should significantly increase its capacity. As part of their Recovery and Resilience Plans, some Member States have made investments to increase their capacity for plastic recycling.

This trend is fueled by the idealistic regulation and policy frameworks in place at the EU and Member States levels to encourage recycling, including the Single-Use Plastics Directive’s targets and measures.

Significant investments and technological advancements made by the sector even support the transition. Additionally, since 2018, a decline in waste exports has been noted, which is aided by the Basel Convention’s fresh regulations on plastic waste and the decision of countries that import waste to limit their imports.

Matthew Boyle

Matthew Boyle is a distinguished Smart City Consultant, renowned for his expertise in IoT (Internet of Things) and cutting-edge urban technology solutions. With a deep understanding of Smart City initiatives, Matthew excels in leveraging IoT innovations to transform urban landscapes into efficient, sustainable, and connected environments. His strategic insights and hands-on experience in urban planning, data analytics, and IoT implementation make him a trusted expert in the field. Matthew Boyle is your go-to consultant for navigating the complex world of Smart Cities, ensuring seamless integration of IoT technologies, and unlocking the potential of data-driven urban solutions. With his guidance, your city can thrive in the digital age, enhancing quality of life and fostering a sustainable future.

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