The new Circular Economy Action Plan promises to address plastic pollution but will concrete steps follow?

New plans revealed today by the European Commission are a step in the right direction but will only be effective if they are implemented with strong ambition.

For immediate release – Brussels, 11 March 2020

New plans revealed today by the European Commission on plastic pollution, as part of its wider Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP), which lists around 50 actions to tackle our resources and waste crises, are a step in the right direction but will only be effective if they are implemented with strong ambition. 

One of the most positive actions is the promise to develop new measures on making products more sustainable. The alliance welcomes this long-overdue legal framework, in particular the commitment to scale up reusable tableware, packaging and cutlery in food services. All the new laws on sustainable products should stimulate the redesign of products and distribution models and drive the transition towards toxic-free reusable products and service-based systems.

Prevention, reduction and reuse, despite being at the top of the EU waste hierarchy, have been overlooked for too long. We now welcome that they are rightly given priority for food services, but they must be at the core of all future concrete measures to foster the redesign of plastics and packaging, as well as their production and distribution systems. This is not only a condition for achieving a true, toxic-free circular economy, it is also necessary to deliver on the EU’s climate agenda” commented Justine Maillot, Policy Coordinator of the Rethink Plastic alliance. 

The alliance, however, remains cautious on the commitment by the European Commission to set a policy framework for biobased and biodegradable plastics. These plastics, which are too often pushed as a solution, are mostly applied as single-use materials with similar environmental impacts to conventional plastics, especially in the ocean.[1][2] Direct substitution of conventional plastics with bio-based and biodegradable plastics is purposefully confusing consumers and amounts to greenwashing.

While microplastics are highlighted as a focus area, it’s regretful that the action plan remains vague on the related concrete measures, going no further than the Plastics Strategy of early 2018. The alliance calls on the Commission to develop EU legislative measures to address pollution from all primary microplastics including pre-production plastic pellets, a major source of microplastics, along the plastic supply chain.[3]

The plan also highlights the role of economic instruments and investments, yet remains vague on detail. The alliance emphasises that these are essential to develop and scale-up solutions and must ensure support for new business models and systems based on prevention and reuse. The alliance is concerned that if investments are directed towards infrastructure for “new” plastic production as well as chemical recycling, this will simply extend business as usual into the future.



[1] Rethink Plastic Alliance Bioplastics Infographic 

[2] EC Research on Biodegradable, Oxodegradable and Compostable bags oberved in sea, air and soil

[3] A recent study shows that if best practices were put in place by producers, converters and transport companies across the supply chain, pellet loss could virtually be eliminated (95% reduction). Rethink Plastic and BreakFreeFromPlastic briefing on pellets available here

Press contacts

Justine Maillot, Policy Coordinator, Rethink Plastic alliance

[email protected] 

+32 (0) 27 362 091 

Agnese Marcon, Communications Coordinator, Rethink Plastic alliance [email protected]  

+32 (0) 456 078 038 

Rethink Plastic is an alliance of leading European NGOs, representing thousands of active groups, supporters and citizens in every EU Member State. It is part of the Break Free From Plastic movement.

Rethink Plastic