EU Releases Green Paper on Plastics Recycling

European Commission seeks stakeholder input on how to reduce plastic disposal.

April 17, 2013
Recycling Today Staff
Legislation & Regulations Plastics

The European Commission (EC) has released a research paper that seeks to provide a jumping-off point for greater discussion on the plastic scrap generated throughout Europe. The paper, Green Paper on a European Strategy on Plastic Waste in the Environment,  has been designed to launch a broad reflection on possible responses to the public policy challenges posed by plastic waste, which are currently not specifically addressed in EU waste legislation.

The follow-up to the Green Paper will be an integral part of the wider review of the waste legislation that will be completed in 2014. The Green Paper report will look at the existing targets for waste recovery and landfill as well as an ex-post evaluation of five directives covering various waste streams.

In a statement following the paper’s release, Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik said, “Managing plastic waste is a major challenge in terms of environmental protection, but it's also a huge opportunity for resource efficiency. In a circular economy where high recycling rates offer solutions to material scarcity, I believe plastic has a future. I invite all stakeholders to participate in this process of reflection on how to make plastic part of the solution rather than the problem.”

The EC notes that the Green Paper underlines the key role that plastic plays in many industrial processes and applications, and the potential economic gains of higher recycling rates. As the world population grows and natural resources become scarcer, recycling plastics will be an alternative to the exploitation of virgin resources. To speed this change, better framework conditions are needed to support eco-design and environmental innovation, with waste prevention and recycling factored in to the design of plastic products.

The challenges posed by plastic waste are not specifically addressed in EU waste legislation at present. Member States should favor prevention and recycling over other modes of disposal, as is the case for all waste streams referred to in the Waste Framework Directive, but clearly more is needed. The Green Paper aims to gather facts and views in order to assess the impacts of plastic waste and define a European strategy to mitigate them.

Stakeholders are invited to contribute their views on whether, and how, existing legislation should be adapted to deal with plastic waste and promote re-use, recycling and recovery of plastic waste over landfilling.

Views are also sought on the effectiveness of potential recycling targets, and of economic measures such as landfill bans, landfill taxes and pay-as-you-throw schemes. The Green Paper also asks how to improve the modular and chemical design of plastic to improve recyclability, how to reduce marine litter and whether there is a need to promote biodegradable plastics.

The consultation, which includes 26 questions, will last until the beginning of June 2013. The result will feed into further policy action in 2014 as part of a broader waste policy review, which will look in particular at the existing targets for waste recovery and landfill as well as an ex-post evaluation of five directives covering various waste streams.

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