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Adoption of New European Plastics Strategy to Affect the Way Plastic Products are Designed, Produced, Used, and Recycled

On 27 February 2018, EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella undertook to put forth a legislative proposal restricting single-use plastics, with a view to fulfilment of one of the main aims of the EU’s new strategy on plastics. The European Commission will, it is understood, present its plan to curb single-use plastics in May 2018. The plan will address items like bottles, cutlery, cups and lids.

The European Commission announced in January this year that it has adopted the first-ever Europe-wide strategy on plastics, as part of the EU’s transition towards a more circular economy. The aim of the strategy is to protect the environment from plastic pollution whilst fostering growth and innovation, thus aiming to turn a challenge into a positive agenda for the future of Europe. It is felt, according to the Commission, that there is a strong business case for transforming the way products are designed, produced, used, and recycled in the EU.

Hong Kong businesses exporting their goods to the EU, whether made of plastic or packaged in plastic materials, will likely be affected by the outcome of the plastics strategy, when it is spelt out in terms of future legislation affecting economic operators and the market. For example, under the new plans, all plastic packaging on the EU market will, it is intended, be recyclable by 2030, the consumption of single-use plastics will be reduced, and the intentional use of microplastics will be restricted.

First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, responsible for sustainable development, has commented that “if we don't change the way we produce and use plastics, there will be more plastics than fish in our oceans by 2050. We must stop plastics getting into our water, our food, and even our bodies. The only long-term solution is to reduce plastic waste by recycling and reusing more. This is a challenge that citizens, industry and governments must tackle together. With the EU plastics strategy we are also driving a new and more circular business model.

Every year, Europeans are said to generate 25 million tonnes of plastic waste, but less than 30% is collected for recycling. Across the world, plastics make up 85% of beach litter. Plastics are even said to be reaching citizens' lungs and dinner tables, with microplastics in air, water and food having an unknown impact on their health. The new EU-wide strategy on plastics will, it is claimed, tackle these issues head on.

Hong Kong’s manufacturing sector exporting to the EU should know that the strategy will, it is expected, transform the way products are designed, produced, used, and recycled in the EU. Too often the way plastics are currently produced, used and discarded fail to capture the economic benefits of a more circular approach, according to the European Commission. This harms the environment.

The goal is to protect the environment whilst at the same time laying foundations for a new plastics economy, where design and production fully respect reuse, repair and recycling needs, and more sustainable materials will have to be developed.

Indeed, new rules on packaging will need to be developed to improve the recyclability of plastics used on the market and increase the demand for recycled plastic content. With more plastic being collected, improved and scaled up, recycling facilities will need to be set up, alongside a better and standardised system for the separate collection and sorting of waste across the EU.

European legislation has already led to a significant reduction in plastic bag use in several Member States. The new plans will henceforth turn to other single-use plastics and even to fishing gear, supporting national awareness campaigns and determining the scope of new EU-wide rules to be proposed during 2018 based on stakeholder consultation and evidence.

Hong Kong sellers of several types of goods may like to know that the Commission will also take measures to restrict the use of microplastics in products, and fix labels for biodegradable and compostable plastics.

New rules on port reception facilities will tackle sea-based marine litter, with measures to ensure that waste generated on ships or gathered at sea is not left behind but returned to land and adequately managed there. Also included are measures to reduce the administrative burden on ports, ships and competent authorities.

As for the expected next steps, as already noted above, the Commission is likely to present its proposal on single-use plastics within around two months. The future Directive on port reception facilities, proposed on 16 January 2018, will go to the European Parliament and Council for adoption. The Commission will launch the work on a revision of the packaging and packaging waste Directive and prepare guidelines on separate collection and sorting of waste, for issuance in 2019.

Please click on the following for more information: Commission Communication on a European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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