Europeans are increasingly concerned with the fate of their plastic waste, but there’s good news. On Tuesday July 10th in Brussels, the European Parliament’s environment committee adopted the “European strategy for plastics in a circular economy ”. Votes will be cast on this own-initiative procedure when MEPs return for the plenary session scheduled for September 13th.
Among other things, the text highlights the need to reduce waste at the source by further developing the ecodesign of goods and, later on, calls for the development of a unified market for plastic recycling. The text follows on from the “European strategy for plastics”, presented on January 16th by the Commission. Additionally, on May 28th the Commision presented a proposal for a directive aiming to ban the use of certain single-use plastic products, such as straws, Q-tips or disposable cutlery, a large amount of which ends up in the sea.
The situation is indeed urgent. According to the Commission, Europeans each year buy some 49 million tonnes of plastic, which is found in all kinds of goods, in particular electric and electronic equipment (5.8%), motor vehicles (8.9%), building and construction materials (19.7%), and above all, packaging (39.9%). And each year Europeans throw away half of the plastic they consume, or 27.1 million tonnes in 2016, according to figures published by PlasticsEurope, the European association for plastic manufacturers.
The Mediterranean, an uncontrolled dumping ground
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What happens to our holiday garbage? In another article, we’ve looked at the waste management systems in the Southern European countries, with a high number of summer tourist arrivals.
That, however, is only the collected and recorded waste: a portion of waste disappears through clandestine disposal schemes (motor vehicles, electronic waste…), if it isn’t just thrown out. A new and alarming report by the WWF looks at the Mediterranean, which has become an uncontrolled dumping ground for plastic waste, during the summer period above all, with the influx of tourists along the coasts. According to the environmentalist organisation, Europeans dump between 220 and 630 thousand tonnes of waste into the Mediterranean, with dramatic impacts on marine life.
Nevertheless, Europe has made clear progress over the last few years in managing its waste (see the graphic below). From a total of 27.1 million tonnes of plastic waste collected in 2016, Europe dealt with 19.7 million tonnes (72.7%) through energy recovery (incineration) and recycling schemes. There has been clear progress over the last ten years: in 2006, 11.7 million of the 24.5 million tonnes collected were recovered (47.7%).
This progress has in turn caused a reduction in the use of landfill. Still, recycling remains a minority practice: in 2016, 31.1% of waste collected in Europe was recycled, while 41.6% of the collected waste was incinerated for energy recovery.
Within this collective progress, however, all countries are not equal. Of 30 states (including Switzerland and Norway), ten have reached a recovery rate of over 90%. And with good reason: these are countries which have put regulations in place to limit or ban landfill.
While Central and Eastern Europe countrie