EU Public Consultation on Reducing Marine Litter: Do Proposed Solutions Go Far Enough?

Single-use plastics — such as plastic packaging, light-weight plastic bags, disposable cups, and food containers — make up an estimated half of the plastics found on EU beaches. To tackle this issue of global concern, the EU is starting to take action to curb the amount of plastic entering the oceans from its shores.

On January 16, the EU published a new Plastics Strategy to present possible approaches to reduce plastic pollution. In parallel, the EU Commission launched a public consultation on ways to reduce the amount of single-use plastics and fishing gear that end up in our oceans. The collected answers will guide EU proposals and future actions. The consultation was open to all stakeholders, from individuals to plastic producers, research institutions to NGOs.

The EU Public Consultation focused on determining the relative importance of the different impacts of marine litter — from endangering animals, to posing health risks for humans, to impacting coastal communities and tourism. In addition, the consultation asked about regulations to tackle plastic waste, in order to evaluate current rules and consider ways to improve those rules in the future.

CIEL welcomes the fact that the consultation included questions about how to tackle the problem of single-use plastics at the EU level, rather than focusing solely on consumer behavior. Combined with the introduction of a new plastics strategy, which aims to create a circular economy in which plastic waste is minimized, the public consultation by the EU is an encouraging step.

However, the solutions presented in the survey focused mostly on plastic products at the end of life rather than throughout the entire lifecycle, starting with producers. For example, the survey proposed EU-wide targets for reducing single-use plastic use and asked whether some companies should be partially responsible for the costs of cleaning up their products from the environment. However, it did not ask whether action should be taken by companies themselves to reduce single-use plastics and create more sustainable products in the first place.

With plastics production expected to increase dramatically over the coming years, we must look at the big picture to fully combat the issue of single-use plastics in the world today. Actions that tackle only one stage of plastic pollution — the plastic waste itself — are not enough to curb the growing plastics crisis. The situation today calls for global action, from multiple stakeholders: Only with the cooperation of governments around the world, and changes that start at the source with action from plastic producers themselves, will we be able to truly reduce plastic pollution.

CIEL’s responses to the public consultation can be found here.

By Zhanna Levitina, Geneva-based intern

Originally posted on February 12, 2018