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

11 October 2018
by eub2 -- last modified 11 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."

The European Policy Office helps shape EU policies that impact on the European and global environment.