Plastics Recycling Update

Dispatches from Europe: EU plans big plastics changes

Europe has laid out its legislative and long-term policy blueprint on waste and recycling, with big changes in store for plastics recycling.

The European Parliament, Council and European Commission reached a provisional agreement on the legislative part of the Circular Economy Package, a set of laws and actions designed to guarantee a more resource-efficient future for Europe.

Clarissa Morawski

The agreed waste legislative proposals amend six key pieces of legislation, including the Waste Framework Directive, the Packaging Waste Directive, the Landfill Directive, and the directives on electronic and electrical waste, on end-of-life vehicles, and on waste batteries and accumulators.

Disagreement originally took hold between the two European Union (EU) co-legislators, the European Parliament and Council, particularly regarding the headline recycling and packaging targets, the calculation methodology and extended producer responsibility (EPR).

Here is a short summary of some key legislative amendments, which have been agreed upon:

While the provisional agreement still needs final approval from the entire Parliament and Council, it is unlikely that additional changes will be made. Once the new legislation has been finally adopted in the spring, all 28 member states (including the U.K.) will have two years to transpose these new obligations into national law.

And there’s more …

Hot on the heels of the provisional agreement on the revised waste legislation, on Jan. 16 the European Commission published “A European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy,” which aims at reducing the leakage of plastic in the environment by transforming the way products are designed, manufactured, used and recycled (the strategy annexes are available here). There are over 42 proposed EU measures to implement the Strategy, with a timeline for each. Among these are:

There is also a list of 15 measures recommended specifically to national and regional governments and eight measures for industry. Here are a few of the recommendations for national and regional authorities:

Here are some of the measures recommended specifically to industry:

Blueprint for change

The year 2018 has kicked off with a vision of what is needed in order to tackle the plastics problem in Europe. It’s a key part of the transition toward a more circular economy. Despite the complexity of the European Union – with its three decision-making bodies, 28 member states, political parties ranging from the far left to the far right, and so many different languages – there appears to be unified support for this blueprint for change.

This comes at a critical time. China’s recent and permanent ban on imports of certain recyclables appears to be the largest market disruption in the history of recycling. The EU has sent a strong signal that they are open for circular business. The blueprint is a clear commitment that new EU policy will offer investors more security, re-channel funding, and mandate national governments and industry into action.

If Europe can implement this revised legislation and the recommended measures and commitments in the Plastics Strategy are fulfilled by government and industry, it can position itself as the world leader in our new circular economy.

Clarissa Morawski is based in Barcelona and serves as the managing director of the Reloop Platform, which brings together industry, government, and nongovernmental organizations in Europe to form a network for advances in policy that create enabling system conditions for circularity across the European economy. She is also principal of Canada-based CM Consulting Inc.

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