Building upon previous efforts to tackle the escalating problem of plastic pollution, in January 2018 the EU adopted the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy. The Strategy aims to protect the environment and citizens from plastic pollution and to demonstrate the business case for transforming the way that products are designed, produced, used and recycled. Under the new plans, all plastic packaging on the EU market will be recyclable by 2030, the consumption of single-use plastics will be reduced and the intentional use of microplastics will be restricted. The strategy highlights the main commitments for action at EU level but also emphasises the important role of businesses, together with national and regional authorities, and citizens.  

Specifically, under the new strategy, the EU will aim at:

  • Improving the economics and quality of plastics recycling. Key players such as industry, plastics manufacturers, etc. are encouraged to work together to make plastics and plastic products easier to recycle. Efforts should be also focused on expanding and improving the separate collection of plastic waste and modernising the EU’s sorting and recycling capacity. Finally, demand for recycled plastics will be stimulated. 
  • Limiting plastic waste: The use of plastic bags was reduced considerably in several Member States. The new plans will now turn to other single-use plastics and fishing gear, supporting national awareness campaigns and determining the scope of new EU-wide rules.  On 18 April 2018 the European Parliament approved the package to update current waste management rules, including new targets for recycling, packaging and landfilling. New recycling targets for different waste streams were introduced, among which recycling target for plastic waste: 50% (by 2025) and 55% (by 2030). The EC will also take measures to restrict the use of microplastics in products.
  • Ceasing littering at sea: New rules on port reception facilities will address marine litter, with measures to ensure that waste generated on ships or gathered at sea is returned to land and adequately managed there. 
  • Driving investment and innovation: The EC will provide guidance for national authorities and businesses on how to minimise plastic waste at source. Innovation will be supported and an additional EUR 100 million will be available for the development of more recyclable plastics materials, more efficient recycling processes, and for removing hazardous substances from recycled plastics.
  • Encourage change across the world: EU will also work with partners from around the world to come up with global solutions and develop international standards. 

What are the national and regional authorities encouraged to do?

On making plastics recycling attractive for businessesOn tackling marine litterOn driving investments and innovation
  • favour reusable and recycled plastics in public procurement;
  • make better use of taxation and other economic instruments to: reward the uptake of recycled plastics and favour reuse and recycling; and promote and improve separate collection of plastics waste; 
  • put in place well-designed Extended Producers Responsibility (EPR) schemes and/or deposit systems; 
  • make voluntary commitments, in particular as regards the uptake of recycled plastics.
  • raise awareness of littering and consider fines; promote beach clean-up activities;
  • improve coordination between the authorities responsible for waste management, water and the marine environment; 
  • step up efforts to eradicate illegal and non-compliant landfills; 
  • develop national monitoring of marine litter; 
  • develop regional plans against marine litter; 
  • consider introducing EPR to provide incentives for collecting discarded fishing gear and recycling agricultural plastics; 
  • consider introducing deposit refund schemes for beverage containers.

  • make better use of economic instruments, to raise the cost of landfilling and incineration and promote plastic waste recycling and prevention; 
  • make greater use of public procurement and funding to support plastic waste prevention and recycling of plastics.

The Plastics Strategy is an important step in the right direction to tackle plastics waste and emphasises the EU’s circular economy ambitions. 

Environment and Resource Efficiency
Thematic expert: Venelina Varbova