The Plastics Strategy of the European Commission, long awaited for, many times postponed, has finally been published. It is an action plan aiming at rethinking our use of plastic, and at tackling plastic pollution, especially its impact on the marine environment. Is it up to the challenge that represents the pollution of our rivers, coastlines and ocean? Surfrider reviews the situation.
A clear step forward….
One of the big announcement –perhaps the biggest– is that a legislation will be proposed on single-use plastics, such as cups, bottles, cotton buds, straws and disposable dishes. These items have swamped our daily life, but also our shorelines and ocean; they rank in the top 10 of items most found on our beaches. This legislation should be developed and discussed during the coming months; Surfrider Foundation Europe, with its partners, will contribute to this process to make sure the legislation is ambitious and comprehensive.
Biodegradable and oxo-degradable plastics
The Strategy also acknowledges concerns related to biodegradable plastics, and admits that their degradation in the marine environment raises questions, and that more research and data are necessary.
The European Commission also commits to ban oxo-degradable plastics, i.e. plastics which, composed of chemical substances including heavy metals, break into plastic microparticles, persisting in the environment even if they are invisible to the human eye. It is a victory and a necessity regarding their harmfulness.
…but a lack of ambition on microplastics
These particles are omnipresent in our daily products (cosmetics, detergents, paints) or generated by the use of daily life items (clothes fibres released during washing, car tyre abrasion etc). The accumulation of microplastics in aquatic environments represents a new environmental issue, and its scale and consequences are not all known yet. Important questions emerge about the impact of polymers on Humans. Surfrider Foundation Europe, within the coalition Beat the Microbead, has been very active on this issue for years and has significantly contributed to the adoption of restrictions on the use of microbead in cosmetics (microplastic intentionally added in skin care products for their scrubbing or emulsifying properties) in France. The Plastics Strategy is in the continuity of the work already done by the association as it foresees a ban on microplastic ingredients intentionally added in a number of products in Europe.
However, regarding other sources of microplastic pollution, no concrete measure is announced. There is no clarity and details given on measures to fight against industrial plastic pellets, which are the second largest source of microplastics . Strong measures are necessary, since industry initiatives to limit plastic pellets loss have not brought good results so far. Also, the measures proposed to tackle microplastic pollution from clothes fibres or tyres remain blurred and are not really focused on prevention.
The Plastics Strategy only presents the European Commission’s intentions, and actions are now needed. Surfrider Foundation Europe will contribute to the development of measures in the coming months and years, in order to eliminate unnecessary plastic in our daily life and put an end to marine litter. Meanwhile, each of us can be part of the solution, by reducing its plastic consumption and by engaging with its friends, family, shopkeepers, city and decision-makers about what is at stake and the alternatives.