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Interview with Sarah Nelen on new European Commission strategy on plastic

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Since May 2017 the UN Global Compact and CSR Europe agreed to partner up to align our work on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and foster collaboration between our national partners.

We recently caught up with Sarah Nelen from DG Environment at the European Commission to talk about the new European Commission strategy on plastic and what it means for Europe.

Question: More plastic than fish in the sea by 2050. What is the new European Commission strategy on Plastics to fight this trend?

Sarah: The Plastics Strategy will be adopted early 2018 as part of the EU's Circular Economy package and plays a role also in the context of  Europe's renewed industrial policy . The strategy, among others, aims at reducing the leakage of plastic in the environment in line with the EU's commitment on the SDGs to reduce marine litter. In order to rethink the plastics economy and make it more circular, it will promote recyclability and the uptake of recycled materials and curb micro plastics and single use plastics. The Plastics Strategy will also reinforce our climate action and is linked to R&I. Both actions at EU level and also national and regional elements will be included. It will be a blend of legislation, enabling measures and voluntary commitments.

Question: How will this new strategy impact the private sector?

SarahWe consider the private sector a key partner in the implementation of the strategy. The environmental and waste management related issues around plastics constitute a global challenge. Some studies point at the risk of having more plastic in the sea than fish by 2050. Seizing the opportunity to reinvent plastics allows Europe to show leadership and businesses in Europe to offer the solutions the whole world is interested in. European companies can be among the first to offer more sustainable solutions for plastics. This will provide them with a competitive advantage in the global markets.

Once the strategy is adopted, work will start on legislative and non-legislative action to be delivered in the months and years to come. For example, we are hoping to adopt some restrictions on microplastics through the EU chemicals legislation (REACH) in the short term. In the long term there are elements that have to be adopted through co-decision procedure and thus take a longer time. An example is the proposal that all plastic packaging that comes to the market needs to be recyclable by 2030. The Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive would need to be amended for that. Besides, whenever new legislation or review of existing product legislation will be announced, the element of plastics will be taken into account. For instance legislation regarding food contact. Sustainable technologies have traditionally been European technologies – we should make sure that this continues, for a better planet and a better economy.