The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) supports the proposal for a directive on single-use plastics and sees it as a crucial element in the circular economy strategy as well as with a view to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
In particular, the Committee stresses that the transition towards sustainability requires first and foremost the involvement of all political, economic, social, environmental and cultural stakeholders, as well as that of every member of the general public, in a new paradigm of production, consumption and recycling of products. This is why education, training and awareness-raising campaigns are fundamental at all levels, paying particular attention to young people of school age.
The Committee sees the Commission's proposal as an important pilot project, with a specific focus on those plastic products that are most commonly found in the seas and oceans. Nevertheless, the proposal could be even more ambitious; moreover, it should be accompanied by a roadmap and other initiatives aimed at ensuring effective implementation.
In particular the Committee makes the following recommendations:
- consideration should be given to expanding the list of ten products, and other products should be included for which sustainable alternatives are already available on the market in sufficient quantity and at a reasonable price;
- the principle according to which all biodegradable products must also be compostable should be clarified, with specific deadlines for photodegradation on land and sea;
- fishermen can play a crucial part in cleaning the seas and oceans. The incentives for returning fishing gear should be extended as soon as possible to include all the waste collected while fishing. In order to fully develop a new system for cleaning up seas and oceans, all relevant stakeholders and local authorities should be involved. In addition, all ports, including smaller ones, should possess an advanced system for the collection and transparent management of waste;
- although 90% of the single-use plastic products present in the European market are produced in third countries, all companies in the sector should receive support in the transition towards more sustainable production. In particular, innovation and development of sectors such as ecodesign, bioplastics and secondary raw materials must be encouraged through the use of financial and fiscal tools. In this way, the EU can benefit from significant growth in the trade balance, as well as fostering the development of more sustainable companies and providing more high-quality jobs;
- the "polluter pays" principle established with Directive 2004/35/EC is a fundamental pillar of the Commission's proposal and lies at the heart of a fairer and more balanced distribution of the costs of waste management and recycling. If properly implemented, the directive will make it possible to lower these costs for those companies that have certified processes for the prevention of pollution or for the direct recovery of manufactured polluting products;
- greater coordination with the rest of the existing legislation on waste management and recycling, focusing on separating rubbish. Member States should also harmonise authorisations and sanctions;
- the strategy for single-use plastic will have a limited effect if the Commission does not intervene with an ad hoc strategy for more sustainable management and monitoring of inland waters (lakes and rivers), through which 80% of the waste in the oceans passes. The Committee recommends fostering the dissemination of governance systems that involve public and private authorities and organised civil society, such as "river contracts", which should be seen as a fundamental requirement for access to certain environmental protection funds (e.g. Interreg);
- the introduction of labelling and traceability systems for plastic products could represent added value with regard to waste management and recycling processes. The creation of a specific logo could strengthen consumer confidence, especially for products manufactured with secondary raw materials;
- the directive should be revised every three years as opposed to every six years. This proposal is justified by the fact that the monitoring mechanisms are already active and have been validated (counting method). Furthermore, such a measure would resolve any problems that may arise during the implementation phase and, if necessary, ensure that the list of the ten products could be modified or expanded based on the implementation status of the directive and any developments in the field of ecodesign;
- the many good practices that already exist in the circular economy should be further shared, strengthening the EESC's European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform, which is an effective tool for all stakeholders to exchange expertise.