Emphasis on prevention of litter from both land- and sea-based sources is the cornerstone of EU policies against plastic pollution of the oceans and seas. Clean-up actions can be meaningful when litter accumulations create serious risks for marine or coastal biodiversity and habitats or negative socioeconomic effects. The EU is furthermore committed to close collaboration with its neighbours within the four Regional Seas Conventions around Europe and with other non-EU countries in global fora such as UN, G20 and G7.
The EU Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy (2018) is the first EU-wide policy framework adopting a material-specific life-cycle approach integrating design, use, reuse and recycling. As part of the Strategy, the EU adopted a new Directive on the reduction of the impact of certain plastic products on the environment (2019), targeting the top 10 single-use plastic products most often found on Europe’s beaches and seas as well as fishing gear containing plastics and the Port Reception Facilities Directive, aiming to reduce the discharges from ship generated waste, including from fishing vessels.
Other EU instruments that help tackling marine litter include the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (2008), a new Directive on Port Reception Facilities for the delivery of waste from ships (2019),the EU’s International Ocean Governance Agenda (2016) and the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive.
The European Commission has started a preparatory work to restrict microplastics intentionally added to products, e.g. in cosmetics or detergents, as well as to reduce emissions of microplastics from other sources, such as tyres, textiles and pre-production plastic pellets.
More generally, the EU’s long tradition of legislation on waste (starting in the 1970s and over the years developed into a comprehensive body of legislation) plays an important role in preventing marine litter. As part of the shift towards a circular economy, an important review of the waste legislation took place and the ensuing legislative proposals adopted in 2018 introduced the world’s most ambitious waste-management targets and strengthened provisions on waste prevention. Today EU’s waste policy includes:
- Horizontal legislation setting the main definitions and principles
- Laws on how waste should be treated
- Legislation on specific products or so-called waste streams (many of which will be further modernized in the years to come)
1. Plastics Bag Directive
The ‘Plastic Bags Directive’(2015) amends the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive 94/62 The Directive requires Member States to take measures to achieve a ‘sustained reduction in the consumption’ of lightweight plastic carrier bags, such as national reduction targets and/or economic instruments (e.g. fees, taxes) and marketing restrictions (bans), provided that the latter are proportionate and non-discriminatory. The Directive sets targets that annual consumption would not exceed 90 bags per person by 2019, 40 by 2025, and/or that by end of 2018 such bags would not be free of charge at the point of sale. Compared to the baseline scenario (2010) this is a 50% reduction in consumption by 2019 and a 80% reduction by 2025.
By June 2020, Member States are to report data for the first time on annual consumption for 2018 (starting May 2018).
2. Directive on the reduction of the impact of certain plastic products on the environment (SUP Directive)
This Directive will significantly reduce the amount of marine litter from single use plastics (SUP) and fishing gear by 2030. As regards SUP, the Directive includes the following measures:
- Extended Producer Responsibility schemes to ensure that producers will help cover the costs of waste management and clean-up, data gathering and awareness raising for the following single use plastic products: tobacco products with filters, drink bottles, packets and wrappers, wet wipes, drinks cups (including their cover and lids), food and beverage containers, balloons, light weight carrier bags;
- Product design measures for drink bottles related to tethered caps and lids, and a binding target of at least 25% of recycled plastic for PET beverage bottles from 2025 onwards and 30% recycled content for all plastic bottles by 2030;
- Consumption reduction measures for single-use plastic versions of drinks cups (including covers and lids), and food containers;
- A ban of single-use plastic versions of cotton bud sticks, balloon sticks, cutlery, plates, straws and stirrers; and beverage containers and cups made of expanded polystyrene (including their caps/covers and lids);
- A general ban on oxo-degradable products;
- An 90% separate collection target for waste from single use plastic bottles either by Deposit Refund Schemes or improved Extend Producer Responsibility schemes by 2029 (interim target of 77% by 2025);
- Marking requirements for sanitary towels, wet wipes, tampons and tampon applicators, tobacco products with filters and cups for beverages, indicating how waste should be disposed of, presence of plastic in the product and resulting negative environmental impact.
- Awareness raising measures on food containers, cups for beverages, balloons, packets & wrappers, beverage containers, tobacco product filters, wet wipes, lightweight plastic carrier bags.
With respect to fishing gear, the Directive foresees the introduction of Extended Producer Responsibility schemes for producers of fishing and aquaculture gear containing plastic who will have the financial responsibility to cover the costs of its separate collection, subsequent transport and treatment. These measures are complemented by provisions providing for financial incentives for ships, including fishing vessels, to maximise delivery of waste gear on shore foreseen under the Port reception facilities Directive. This will contribute to ensuring the full integration of plastic material from fishing gear in the waste and recycling stream, the involvement of producers of plastic material for fishing gear in managing waste fishing gear returned to shore and higher recycling rates for high quality fishing gear material. The EU is also currently looking at the development of a harmonized standard for a circular design of fishing gear, to encourage its preparation for reuse- and to facilitate the recyclability at the end of life.
3. Marine Strategy Framework Directive
The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD, 2008/56/EC) was the first EU legal instrument to address explicitly marine litter; it requires “Good Environmental Status” for marine litter to be achieved by 2020, i.e. that “properties and quantities of marine litter do not cause harm to the coastal and marine environment”. Assessment of the status, target setting, monitoring, reporting and implementation of measures related to marine litter and microlitter are carried out in accordance with relevant MSFD provisions and have been further specified within a Decision by the European Commission (2017/848/EU). The Commission assessment of the measures submitted by the EU Member States was published in July 2018. Implementation of MSFD activities against marine litter is supported by the MSFD Technical Group on Marine Litter, bringing together experts from Member States, Regional Sea Conventions, NGOs, roof organizations and scientific project leads. It acts as an advisory group to the policy process and links science with policy, providing guidance and recommendations on relevant issues such as harm caused by marine litter, sources of marine litter and riverine litter. Importantly, it has been tasked to develop baseline quantities and threshold values for marine litter and microlitter pursuant to the abovementioned Commission Decision.
4. Directive on Port Reception Facilities
The new Directive covers all waste from ships, with a special focus on addressing marine litter originating from shipping, including from the fishing and recreational sectors. To this end, the Directive provides for a mix of incentives and enforcement measures to maximise waste delivery on shore to adequate port reception facilities, where the waste should be properly managed (e.g. through separate collection). The directive strengthens the financial incentive for delivery by providing for a 100% indirect fee for garbage (MARPOL Annex V waste) to be paid irrespectively of volumes delivered. This fee gives all ships a right to deliver all garbage waste, including waste fishing gear and passively fished waste, without facing any further additional fees.
This should result in a robust framework to tackle (plastic) waste from ships and to ensure that port reception facilities are available for the management of this waste in line with the principles of the Circular Economy.
The Directive requires the establishment of EPR schemes to ensure that producers are responsible for the costs of cleaning up litter (article 8).
5. Revision of the Waste Legislation
In relation to waste management, the EU Member States have implemented effective separate (household) collection schemes and have built in economic incentives for better waste treatment (e.g. landfill/ incineration charges) as well as Extended Producer Responsibility Schemes.
In May 2018, the EU revised its waste legislation to make it fit for the future. The revised legislation:
- strengthens the “waste hierarchy”, i.e. it requires Member States to take specific measures to prioritize prevention, re-use and recycling above landfilling and incineration.
- significantly steps up recycling of municipal waste (target of 55% by 2025 and 65% by 2035) and packaging waste (target of 65% by 2025 and 70% by 2030 – for plastics the 2030 target is 55%).
- will boost the quality of secondary raw materials and their uptake through new separate collection rules;
- phases out landfilling (max. 10% by 2035) and promotes the use of economic instruments, such as Extended Producer Responsibility schemes;
In the context of the prevention of waste, the revised EU Waste Framework Directive requires Member States to identify products that are the main sources of littering, notably in natural and marine environment, and take appropriate measures to prevent and rerduce litter from such products. The Directive also requires Member States to develop and support information campaigns to raise awareness about waste prevention and littering. In the future, Member States management plans will have to contain measures to combat and prevent all forms of littering and to clean up all types of litter. With regard to enforcement they are required to take the necessary measures to prohibit the abandonment, dumping or uncontrolled managmenent of waste, including littering.
6. European Circular Economy Stakeholders Platform
The European Circular Economy Stakeholders Platform is a joint initiative of the European Commission and the European Economic and Social Committee. It is an online platform to exchange best practices, knowledge and strategies to accelerate the transition towards the circular economy. As a place for knowledge, the platform features different contributions from stakeholders: good practices, national, regional and local strategies, studies and reports on the Circular Economy and commitments. In the section “good practices” stakeholders are able to submit directly their experiences to the platform. The sections on national, regional and local strategies, on knowledge and on voluntary commitments feature examples of the type of contribution we wish to collect. Many projects and initiatives on plastics can be found in the Platform’s database, which is being continuously updated.
7. Circular Economy Finance Support Platform
Innovation needs innovative financial instruments. Together with the European Investment Bank, the Commission launched the Circular Economy Finance Support Platform (in January 2017), inviting key stakeholders such as national promotional banks, private financial institutions, NGOs and trade associations. This Platform will stimulate the generation and financing of Circular Economy projects and will also raise awareness of circular economy needs, identify opportunities and best practices amongst potential project promoters, and provide advice on structuring and improving the bankability of circular economy projects.
Other EU funding programmes are available to support the transition to the circular economy:
- H2020 work program 2018-2020 focus area ‘Connecting economic and environmental gains – the Circular Economy’ has allocated around 1 billion. Through R&I actions a strong contribution will be made to sustainable development goals, climate action, resource efficiency, jobs and growth and industrial competitiveness. In particular, actions on plastics, on premature obsolesce, bioeconomy, organic fertilisers, food waste, to mention a few, will be covered by this focus area.
- The European Structural and Investment Funds, including Cohesion Policy; Related URL: https://ec.europa.eu/info/funding-tenders/funding-opportunities/funding-programmes/overview-funding-programmes/european-structural-and-investment-funds_en
- The European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), which was extended until 2020, focusing more on investments to meet the Paris Agreement targets and help the transition to a circular and zero carbon economy. Related URL: https://ec.europa.eu/growth/industry/innovation/funding/efsi_en
- The LIFE programme; Related URL: https://ec.europa.eu/easme/en/life
Twenty innovation projects teamed up to support the EU efforts to steer the plastics industry into the circular economy. The recently formed Plastics Circularity Multiplier group will share resources and expertise to enhance the impact of the projects receiving funding from the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation funding programme. More specifically, the Plastics Circularity Multiplier group will communicate to policy makers, the public and industry on a range of EU-funded innovations on plastics.
8. Regional and international collaboration
Around the EU, the four Regional Sea Conventions (in Mediterranean, Northeast Atlantic, Baltic and the Black Sea) developed and implement, with EU technical and financial support, plans against marine litter; G7 (in 2015) and G20 (in 2017) have also adopted Action Plans against marine litter. Regional plans and initiatives against marine litter exist (Southeast and Northwest Pacific, East Asian Seas) or are under development (Persian Gulf, NE Pacific, Arctic) also outside the EU.
The EU finances projects in its neighbourhood (Mediterranean and Black Sea) and the Commission services are working on large projects that will contribute to marine litter reduction internationally, for example in Southeast Asia, the Pacific and South America (in the order of €800 million, for the period 2014-17).
In May 2019, the EU played a central role to achieve an international decision making trans-boundary movements of most plastic waste subject to the controls of the Basel Convention. The new rules (which will enter into force in 2021) will improve controls on exports and imports of plastic waste. Countries on the receiving end will be able to refuse foreign shipments of mixed and unsorted plastic waste. It is important to stress that the EU has stricter rules than the Basel Convention: this means that, from 2021, it will be prohibited for the EU to export plastic waste covered by the Basel Convention to countries outside the OECD. The amendments to the Basel Convention is an important step towards a better control of global trade in plastic waste and will help developing countries to control imports into their territories. This will support the prevention of marine litter and encourage sorting and recycling of plastic waste, in line with EU circular economy policies.
9. International Ocean Governance Agenda
Fighting marine litter and the “sea of plastic” is one of the 50 actions included in the International Ocean Governance Agenda adopted by the EU in November 2016 (please see more information below).
10. Awareness raising and communication
The European Commission launched an awareness-raising campaign to highlight citizens’ role in combatting plastic pollution and marine litter (https://ec.europa.eu/info/news/single-use-plastics-are-you-readytochange-2018-jun-05_en); .Together with the United Nations Environment Programme and other partners the Commission coordinates a global network of aquariums to raise public awareness about plastic pollution (https://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-18-6203_en.htm); .On the occasion of World Clean-up Day in September 2018, some 50 EU delegations and representations joined NGOs, embassies, schools and volunteer networks to organise beach clean activities across the world (https://ec.europa.eu/maritimeaffairs/content/eubeachcleanup-campaign-goes-global_en). A year later, over 80 countries took part in the #EUBeachCleanup campaign. Social media impact has been unprecedented for any Commission communication initiative.
Leading by example, the European Commission has also phased out all single-use plastic cups in water fountains and vending machines in all its buildings and at all meetings.
The EU not only finances dedicated projects focused on awareness raising but also requires dissemination and communication activities in almost all EU-funded projects against litter.
11. Voluntary Commitments from the European plastics value chain
In parallel with the presentation of the Plastics Strategy in 2018, PlasticsEurope and polymer specific platforms presented a set of voluntary commitments that include some quantified targets:
– “achieving the goal of 100% re-use, recycling and or recovery of all plastics packaging in the EU-28, Norway and Switzerland by 2040; reach 60% re-use and recycling of plastics packaging by 2030” (PE);
– “commit to 65% recycling and reuse of PET packaging material collected by 2030. Amongst which, 30% of closed loop” (PET);
– “to reach 60% recycling and reuse of the collected polyolefin (PO) packaging and to work collaboratively with all relevant stakeholders in Europe to have more than 75% of all PO packaging readily designed-for-recycling by 2030” (PCEP);
– continue to contribute yearly around 5 million € in order to support our commitment beyond 2020 and until 2030 (VinylPlus);
– to have 100% of its member companies, to which OCS is applicable, to sign the Operation Clean Sweep pledge by the end of 2018;
The commitments also foresee to establish an independent committee (called also Advisory Committee) made up of representatives from the European Commission and European Parliament, academia, civil society, and PlasticsEurope – to monitor and guide the progress made. While providing the general oversight of the Plastics 2030 Voluntary Commitments, this Advisory Committee would serve to complement the respective stakeholder committees of the individual Circular Economy and Value Chain Initiatives.
12. Circular Plastics Alliance
In the framework of the Circular Plastics Alliance a Declaration was signed, by over 100 stakeholders from the whole plastics value chain, and Member-States in September 2019. Its aim is to establish clear industry commitments on the way forward to make plastics circular in Europe, including how to reach the 10m tonnes objective of recycled content in new products for 2025, foreseen in the Plastics Strategy, and go even further in the following years.
● High R&D funding against litter
Through the EU Research and Innovation Programme Horizon 2020 (2014-2020) the European Union has funded a number of projects to prevent marine litter and reduce its impact as well as to increase its knowledge base and inform citizens, for example TOPIOS (https://cordis.europa.eu/project/rcn/207862/factsheet/en), SeaChange (http://www.seachangeproject.eu/) and ResponSeable (https://www.responseable.eu/). These have been completed by a new call for proposals on understanding the effects of micro- and nano-plastics on human health (25 M€), on developing a common European framework to harmonise procedures for plastics pollution monitoring and assessments (2 M€), and on the removal of marine litter in important hot spots for marine ecosystems functions (12 M€). Horizon 2020 also funds related projects to improve the circularity of plastics and implement the circular economy strategy (new materials, recyclability, etc.). In the new Research and Innovation Programme (2021-2027), Horizon Europe, specific area for research on seas, oceans and inland waters is envisaged for strengthening our knowledge and understanding in order to protect, restore and sustainably manage marine, inland and coastal ecosystems and prevent pollution, including marine litter.
Moreover, through the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), the EU is financing projects to prevent and fight marine litter, supporting concrete methodologies and technologies for reducing the volume and harmfulness of sea-based sources of marine litter and for removing and/or recycling it in an environmentally sound and efficient way. These are, for example, MarGnet (http://www.margnet.eu), AQUA-LIT (https://aqua-lit.eu/) or NetTag (http://net-tag.eu).
The Commission has started to work to restrict microplastics intentionally added to products, e.g. in cosmetics paints or detergents, by requesting the European Chemicals Agency to review the scientific basis for considering a restriction under REACH. In January this year, ECHA published a restriction dossier stating that health and environmental risks posed by intentionally added microplastics justify an EU-wide restriction. ECHA’s Scientific Committees will now review the dossier and give their opinion on whether a restriction is needed. If agreed, an EU-wide restriction could be in place by mid-2021.
The EU is also preparing actions to address microplastics resulting from the use of products, for instance tyres or textiles, or from primary plastic production, for instance spills of pre-production plastic pellets.
● Many large development aid projects contributing to marine litter prevention and reduction (please see paragraph 6 on the section above)
● International Ocean Governance Agenda
Over the last two years, under its International Ocean Governance Agenda, the EU has taken action to address marine litter at source and has engaged in shaping the international response to this increasingly pressing problem. It has done so by building on the EU Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy (see above). The EU has actively supported the follow-up of the Resolution on marine litter and micro-plastics adopted at the third UN Environment Assembly in December 2017, and the implementation of the Resolution adopted at the fourth UN Environment Assembly in March 2019. It has also actively supported the efforts made by the G7 and G20 members.
It is providing targeted support to improving waste management in the Pacific and in the Southeast Asia, which faces massive challenges in tackling plastic pollution. The EU has secured specific funding to develop marine litter baselines as part of the implementation of the Marine Framework Directive. Maps of litter distribution are now available through the European Maritime Observation and Data Network (EMODnet). Additional financing was earmarked in 2017 to support the reduction, monitoring and quantification, removal and recycling of marine litter. Investment of 22 EUR million has been done to support fishing for litter operations. Furthermore, the EU has proposed the adoption of measures to prevent marine pollution associated with fishing activities in all Regional Fisheries Management Organizations to which it is Party.
The EU engaged with the FAO as well in view of the adoption of voluntary guidelines on the marking of fishing gear, and with the IMO as regards the newly established action plan on marine litter from ships.
Lastly, Europol, with the support of European Fisheries Control Agency, European Maritime Security Agency and the European Border and Coast Guard Agency collaborated with INTERPOL in an unprecedented operation to fight maritime pollution in 2018. The operation, code-named 30 Days at Sea, brought together some 276 law enforcement and environmental agencies across 58 countries to take targeted action to tackle crime against marine pollution law. The results were outstanding, with more than 3800 actions worldwide detecting 356 pollution incidents. These led to 120 arrests and 436 administrative cases of prosecution for illegal discharges of oil and garbage from vessels, shipbreaking, breaches of shipping emissions regulations, river pollution and land-based run-off into the sea.
Note: Relevant indicators, data or other numerical information can be included at the discretion of each country, for example: (1) the amount of waste generated, reused, collected, recycled, and properly disposed of; (2) the amount of marine litter cleaned up; (3) the scale of use of innovative technologies and materials including R&D investment; (4) the scale and/or effect of assistance for countries that need technical capacity development including the increased amount of waste properly disposed of. (encouraged to indicate the proportion/elements of plastics and/or microplastics, if available)
- Comprehensive approach to plastic production, use and disposal in the EU’s Plastic Strategy as part of the EU’s Circular Economy Action Plan.
- Binding legislation for monitoring and assessing marine litter, for defining acceptable thresholds, setting targets and for taking measures to reduce quantities of litter and harm from litter.
- Integrated approach covering all sources of plastic litter and microplastics.
- Legislation on the reduction of the impact of certain plastic products on the environment, targeting the top 10 single-use plastic products most often found on Europe’s beaches and seas as well as fishing gear containing plastics.
- Legislation on port reception facilities to reduce the discharges from ship generated waste, including from fishing vessels.
- Establishment of baselines for marine litter quantities in the coastal and marine environment.
- Work towards the establishment of regulatory thresholds to prevent harm from litter in the marine coastal environment, including socio-economic aspects.
- International and regional approach, coordination with neighbouring countries and third countries.
- A European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy
- Directive on the reduction of the impact of certain plastic products on the environment (SUP Directive)
- International Ocean Governance : an agenda for the future of our oceans
- Directive on port reception facilitiesMarine Strategy Framework Directive
- Good Environmental Status – Marine Litter
- Revision of the Waste Legislation
Luca Marmo (Mr)