The advance towards EU taxing on virgin plastic

Amsterdam, 28 November 2018– Is there even basic political support for a European tax on virgin plastic? It would appear so. Günther Oettinger, European Commissioner for Budget and Human Resources suggested just this, last January already. The EU Green Party also began a campaign this year for the introduction of a tax on plastic manufacturers. At the very same time, the packaging industries are leading strong lobbying aimed at preventing any kind of tax on plastic and advocating purely voluntary measures being taken, if any.

The European Commission (EC) wants to see much more plastic being recycled. There is no announcement of any tax to stimulate that at all in the Plastics Strategy. Instead, the EC required the industry to promise to clean up their act, on a voluntary basis, just this last summer. From among the 65 pledges received by the Commission, it transpires that European recyclers in 2025 could recycle 10 million tonnes of plastic. However, going on this week’s press release on the subject, the EC has identified a huge problem. They may very well say there are 10 million tonnes of plastic for recycling, but there is only actual demand for 5 million tonnes.

Plastic manufacturers want to (re)use only good quality recycled plastic. Frans Timmermans, European Commissioner for Better Regulation (etc.) said: “We will now analyse which should be the next steps to further boost the uptake of recycled plastics and close the gap between supply and demand”. From the press release, it appears that this further analysis, to be published by the EC early 2019, does not exclude new laws and economic incentives. Nicely bringing tax on virgin plastic into the picture.

The discussion on levies for virgin plastic has been given a boost within the UK recently. The core message taken from last week’s report as distributed among UK MPs is that companies are taxed specifically when they use non-recycled plastic, or plastic with too low a percentage of recycled content. The report was written for the WWF and Resource Association, by the Eunomia advisory.

This suggested method of operation will make it more expensive to make new (packaging) plastic. Meaning, an overall reduction in the amount of plastic, a reduction in the use of raw materials, and a reduction in CO2 emissions besides. On the other side of the coin, it makes it financially more attractive to make and use recycled plastic, given that that will remain free of any levy.

Maria Westerbos, MD of The Plastic Soup Foundation says: “We have long advocated a tax on primary packaging plastic. We urgently call upon the Dutch government to show their hand, anticipate this trend and lead the way in support of the levying of a tax on virgin plastic within Europe.”

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European Parliament takes historic decision against plastic pollution

Strasbourg, 25 October 2018 – Yesterday in the European Parliament an overwhelming majority voted in favour of a considerable reduction of single-use plastics. More than 87 percent (571 Members of Parliament) brought out a positive vote. In a ground-breaking decision, manufacturers of plastic packaging, cigarettes and fishing nets will have to contribute to the cost of cleaning up their waste. So far, these costs were passed on to the society. From now on manufacturers will be held responsible for the pollution caused by their products.

The European Parliament went even further than the European Commission’s proposal earlier this year. EU Commissioner Frans Timmermans, among others, often spoke out in favour of the so-called Plastics Strategy and was awarded the Plastic Soup Foundation’s ‘Politieke Pluim’ (Political Compliment) last week.

Firstly, the measures contain a ban starting 2021 on the single-use plastics that are found to be the most common litter in the seas, such as plates, cutlery, straws, balloon sticks and cotton swabs. Parliament has expanded this list to include products of oxygen-degradable plastic and expanded polystyrene (such as fast-food boxes). In addition, Member States must draw up national plans to encourage multiple use or recycling. Other types of plastics that can be recycled, such as drinking bottles, must be collected and recycled, with a target of 90 percent in 2025. Reaching this target is only feasible if deposit systems are introduced or extended.

Reduction targets have also been established for cigarette butts because these also contain plastic. Waste from tobacco products should be reduced by 50 percent in 2025 and by 80 percent in 2030. Furthermore, Member States must ensure that annually at least 50 percent of lost fishing nets are collected. Fishing nets are responsible for 27 percent of the waste that is found on European beaches.

Jeroen Dagevos, head of programmes at the Plastic Soup Foundation, welcomes the European decision: “I’m pleased that the European Parliament has taken this decision. It is a good first step. Now, firm action is required to stop the growth of plastic production.”

Next week the environment ministers of the EU Member States will speak about the legislative text, after which this will go through European Parliament once more and will then finally be presented to the European government leaders for approval.

Read the European Parliament press release.

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Plastic Strategy: The European Commission’s Vision for Plastic

Amsterdam, January 17, 2018 — In the spirit of turning challenges into chances, the European Commission presented its Plastic Strategy yesterday. The European Union (EU) wants nothing less than to create a “new plastic economy”. The dilemma was put into words by Commissioner Frans Timmermans in his presentation to the European Parliament: “We can no longer live without plastic, but that very same plastic can be deadly”.

In order to find a solution to this dilemma, the EU wants to drastically reform the plastic industry. On the production side, new demands to make plastic more recyclable are arising. In 2030, all plastic must be either highly reusable or easily recyclable. The focus on recycling lies especially with C02 profit, which is in line with the climate accord that was agreed upon in Paris in 2015.

What does the EU hope to do about the increasing plastic pollution in the environment? A tax on single-use plastic is being considered, and container-deposit systems are also being heavily simulated. The possibility of an overall ban on microplastics in cosmetics is furthermore being researched. The plans, however, strongly rely on voluntary participation from the industry. 

The Plastic Strategy undeniably offers a framework through which to drastically take on plastic pollution. Whether or not this will happen in practice remains yet to be seen. Firstly, there is the relatively unambitious deadline of 2030. Between now and then, plastic production will increase enormously. The plans to place a tax on single-use plastic used for packaging are vague, while concrete reduction goals have yet to be formulated.

The EU has presented the plastic Strategy at an opportune moment. As of January 1st, China no longer accepts plastic waste from the EU. Europe must now process its own plastic waste. This creates a large opening for innovations in the recycling industry and gives the momentum needed to introduce necessary measures.

The Commission wants to turn challenges into opportunities. The danger is that the EU sees the combination of economic growth and sustainability through rose-colored glasses. When the focus lies on “better plastic” instead of the drastic reduction of the overall plastic use, the chance of leaks into the environments remains large. 

European Commission’s Plastics Strategy completely inadequate

Amsterdam, 8 November 2017 – The European Commission is expected to make public its views on plastic next month. The long-awaited Strategy on Plastics in a Circular Economy should guide Europe’s policy for the next decade. The leaked draft text reveals something of the Commision’s thoughts on plastic. In an open letter to European Commissioner Timmermans, the Plastic Soup Foundation responded that the proposed plastic policy is well below par and will not help control the growing plastic pollution.

The basic premise of the Plastics Strategy is that the production of plastics will continue unchecked but that the recycling of waste plastic needs to be improved. It recognises that plastic leakage into the environment is a problem that needs to be prevented through effective rubbish collection and behaviour change campaigns.

In its letter, the Plastic Soup Foundation states that reduction is the best way to prevent plastic pollution. Single-use plastic in particular must be drastically reduced by regulations. The Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive offer the opportunity to limit the production of plastic by item.

The leaked draft strategy does not make the European Union’s position on microplastics in personal care products clear. The Beat the Microbead campaign demands a ban as stated in the Stop pollution of plastic from cosmetics through an EU-wide ban position paper last month. It would be easy to put a stop to microplastic pollution, but without regulations, the industry will simply continue its old ways.

Maria Westerbos, Director of the Plastic Soup Foundation, says that “We really need a change with mandatory reduction goals. The European Union has repeatedly talked about its commitment to reduce plastic pollution in the ocean. In the light of the Plastics Strategy it seems that these are empty words as the Plastics Strategy gives industry free hand to continue flooding our environment with plastic.