Big tobacco poisons (long-due) extended producer responsibility obligations across Europe, new report reveals 

The extended producer responsibility obligations introduced by the SUP Directive are important provisions that are applauded by the Rethink Plastic alliance and Surfrider Foundation Europe. For the first time across almost a continent, the tobacco industry will have to pay for (some of) the pollution costs it generates because of putting polluting single-use plastic items on the market at the expense of the environment. The adoption of these provisions also made more concrete the application of the polluter-pay principle, that despite being a cornerstone of the EU environmental policy, continues to be very poorly applied at EU level.

The new report by the Rethink Plastic alliance, led by Surfrider Foundation Europe, released today, aims to provide an update on the implementation status of the EPR measures on tobacco products exactly one year after they were due. It also identifies shortcomings in the way the measure was first laid down in the Directive and transposed at national level, as well as in the way the EPR schemes were set, and explores potential ways forward through a concrete set of recommendations.

Among the many flaws and risks the new report reveals, are the following:

Little to no initiative nor increased ambition in the way the EU provisions were transposed and adapted

In most cases, Member States have transposed the Directive by copying and pasting the wording of the EU text without further specification or details, opting for a rather basic implementation of the Directive requirements and making many of the measures introduced de facto non-operational. Only a few countries have introduced further precisions or provisions which increase the potential of the Directive and its likely impacts. This is for example the case with which have set reduction targets. Other countries are also showing political leadership with calls for EU-wide bans on SUP filters and disposable e-cigarettes.

Significant delays in the implementation

Many Member States are late in implementing the EPR provisions laid down in the SUP Directive such as the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Germany, Poland or Slovakia.

A partial consideration of the costs incurred

Very little initiative has been taken by Member States to incorporate other costs than the ones listed in the EU text. Unfortunately, the EU list does not incorporate all the costs tobacco induced nor reflects the environmental harms caused by the tobacco industry. These costs were a minimum list of costs that should be covered by operators, meaning other costs could be accounted for in the extended producer responsibility schemes to be implemented at national level. They appear very low in view of the huge revenue cigarette sales generate. This is even more striking when litter clean-up costs are examined. And it is unfortunate some Member States have used the delay experienced by the European Commission in releasing its guidelines for criteria on the cost of cleaning up litter, off the record to justify their own delay or low ambition in specifying further how they will calculate these costs.

No recognition of the specificities of the tobacco industry

Tobacco products and tobacco players are not like any other products and any other producers. Extra attention is needed from decision-makers to adapt the ‘usual’ EPR obligations to this specific sector and make sure the schemes set at national level comply with international rules We believe national authorities must set EPR systems that exclude the producers of tobacco products with filters and filters and any tobacco sector player from the governance of the EPR scheme and from any decision or any activity conducted on behalf of the scheme, in compliance with international rules on tobacco control.

Awareness campaigns driven by the tobacco industry

Along this line, the report reveals confusion at best or arrangements made with the EU text at worst, in the EPR schemes set at national level between the financial responsibility and operational responsibility as regard awareness-raising. On the one hand, the SUPD lists awareness-raising costs among the costs to be covered by tobacco producers as part of the EPR schemes to be set. On the other hand, the SUPD stipulates that Member States shall take measures to inform consumers and to incentivise responsible consumer behaviour, in order to achieve a reduction in the littering of products covered by this Directive, including tobacco products with plastic filters and plastic filters. In practice, in many Member States, the responsibility for designing and launching campaigns was given to the Producer Responsibility Organisations. This presents the significant risk for the tobacco industry to portray itself as a corporate socially responsible actor despite clear international rules on the matter.

Making the most of the current EU text with opportunities ahead

The report calls Member States to make the most of what the current SUPD offers so that the tobacco industry pays and is finally held accountable for the products they put on the market and for the harms they cause to the planet and Humans alike.

It also identifies the review of the SUPD, expected by 2027 and the ongoing international negotiations as complementary opportunities to tackle the plastic pollution that tobacco products generate, with more ambition and impacts.

We remain at the disposal of journalists for any information or interview requests.

About Surfrider Foundation Europe

The NGO Surfrider Foundation is a group of positive activists who take concrete action on the ground every day to pass on a preserved ocean to future generations. Our mission: to make the voice of the ocean heard loud and clear! Our weapons? Raising awareness and mobilizing citizens, children and adults alike (thanks to 48 volunteer branches throughout Europe), using our scientific expertise to lobby and transform companies. Find out more about the association at https://surfrider.eu/en or via this video

About Rethink Plastic Alliance

Rethink Plastic is an alliance of leading European NGOs, with thousands of active groups, supporters and citizens in every EU Member State. We bring together policy and technical expertise from a variety of relevant fields, and work with European policy-makers to design and deliver policy solutions for a future that is free from plastic pollution. We are part of the global Break Free From Plastic movement, made up of 11,000 organizations and individual supporters from across the world who are demanding massive reductions in single-use plastics and to push for lasting solutions to the plastic pollution crisis.

About Break Free From Plastic

BreakFreeFromPlastic is the global movement working to achieve a future free from plastic pollution. More than 12,000 organizations and individuals around the world have come together to demand reductions in single-use plastics and to advocate for lasting solutions to the plastic pollution crisis. BFFP members work together to bring about systemic change by tackling plastic pollution across the whole value chain – from extraction to disposal – focusing on prevention rather than cure. Find out more on https://www.breakfreefromplastic.org/

Contacts

Surfrider Foundation Europe’s “Break the plastic wave” campaign is supported by the LIFE program of the European Commission. The European Commission’s support to produce this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the content, which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

Council position sparks hope for packaging law, NGOs call on institutions for stronger commitment to prevention and reuse in trilogues

The agreement reached today comes  more than a year after the Commission’s proposal. Critically, the Council retained all measures to restrict unnecessary packaging, such as those used for fruit and vegetables as well as single use packaging in restaurants, as well as sectoral reuse targets for 2030 and 2040. 

Although the Council introduced more flexibility for reuse targets than foreseen in the Commission’s proposal, and problematic derogations for cardboard, the scale of targets and the sectors covered were for the most part preserved. This is a stark contrast to the European Parliament’s position, agreed in a plenary vote in November, which deleted many measures and introduced broad derogations with weak justifications.  

NGOs have been vocal in denouncing the level of aggressive and misleading lobbying which MEPs faced, largely led by the fast food and paper-based packaging manufacturers which led to an unacceptable dilution of the waste prevention measures in the European Parliament’s final position. An attempt led by Italy and Finland – home to some of Europe’s biggest fast-food packaging producers – to mirror the Parliament’s proposals was in the end not supported in Council. NGOs had warned that their proposals risked up to an additional 7.3 million tonnes in waste each year (ref). 

“Faced with unprecedented lobbying, untransparent studies and misleading pseudo-science it is encouraging to see that Member States reached an agreement on the Packaging Regulation today. Credit goes to the Spanish Presidency for navigating through conflicting national interests and striking a compromise which retains some ambition on reuse and prevention. The baton is now passed to Belgium who must finalise the trilogues for this important file for the environment and Europe’s circular economy.”

Marco Musso, Senior Policy Officer for Circular Economy at EEB

“The Council’s support for paper packaging exemptions unfortunately undermines the regulation’s aim to reduce packaging waste. Instead, it will just increase cardboard packaging, adding to the already 3 billion trees cut down every year for packaging alone! True ambition would not include this exemption. Forests are not packaging factories.”

Sergio Baffoni, Senior Paper Packaging Campaigner at the Environmental Paper Network

Regrettably, as part of the compromise, the Council removed the reuse targets for wine, reintroduced the exemptions for cardboard and limited the restrictions on unnecessary packaging for fruits and vegetables only to plastics packaging.Beyond reuse and prevention the agreement also addressed other aspects of the proposal. The ambition of measures to ensure that all packaging will be recyclable by 2030 was also reduced with a new definition of recyclability grades.  The Council also offered a very unambitious exemption to establishing DRS systems for single-use plastic bottles and cans if a collection rate of 78% is achieved by 2026. The Council was also more cautious than the Parliament when it came to addressing dangerous chemicals in packaging – agreeing only to prepare a report on the issue by 2026. 

Only Italy voted against the overall agreement which was adopted with a qualified majority. Since the start of the negotiations Italy has opposed waste prevention and reuse, blindly siding with national throw-away industrial interests and ignoring scientific evidence on the environmental impact of packaging waste. 

The interinstitutional negotiations (trilogues) on the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation will begin in the new year. An agreement between the three institutions will have to be found within a limited number of meetings because of the European elections in Spring 2024. Earlier the Belgian Government had committed to finalise the file during its presidency citing its importance for the circular economy.  

Media contacts: 
  • Sarah Abou-Chleih, Communications Officer at the European Environmental Bureau +32 2 790 43 86 [email protected] 
  • Marco Musso, Senior Policy Officer for Circular Economy at the European Environmental Bureau +32 2 289 13 07 [email protected] 
  • Mateus Carvalho, Coordinator and Campaigner of Environmental Paper Network [email protected]
 Notes for editors: 
About:

Rethink Plastic is an alliance of leading European NGOs, representing thousands of active groups, supporters and citizens in every EU Member State.

We are part of the global Break Free From Plastic movement, consisting of over 11,000 organisations and individuals worldwide demanding an end to plastic pollution.

The Rethink Plastic alliance has been working on the packaging file together with an informal alliance of NGOs with expert knowledge and hands-on experience on the entire lifecycle of plastics and paper. The members of this informal coalition are Zero Waste Europe, European Environmental Bureau, ECOS, ClientEarth, Deutsche Umwelthilfe, Recycling Netwerk Benelux, Fern and the Environmental Paper Network.

Parliament trashes EU hopes to reduce packaging waste, siding with throwaway industry

Brussels, 22 November 2023

For immediate distribution

Today, the European Parliament voted on the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation proposal issued by the European Commission in November 2022. The proposal sought to reduce record levels of packaging waste in Europe. Intimidated by unprecedented lobbying, parliament voted to delete almost all provisions to tackle unnecessary packaging, as well as most of  the reuse targets for 2040. Some reuse targets (e.g. for beverages) were lowered but retained, and accompanied by broad derogations, making the reuse targets virtually ineffective and sending a massively negative signal to the nascent reuse sector and circular economy frontrunners.

These choices directly give into false claims, scaremongering, and intense lobbying from the most wasteful industries, decimating any ambition necessary to prevent waste. After the Environment committee, the lead parliamentary committee on this file, already watered down the ambition of the proposal in October, the Plenary today dealt the final blow to provisions needed to deal with the packaging waste crisis. 

While support for measures to make all packaging recyclable will help to boost stagnant recycling levels in the Union, they will do nothing to reduce record levels of waste generation. 

The fast-food lobby and single use packaging industries will be celebrating the hypocrisy of the EU, which claims to be a global leader on the implementation of a circular economy. Notably MEPs deleted provisions which would limit the use of single use packaging when dining in the largest restaurants as well as wrapping fruit and vegetables where it is not necessary to protect them. 

A tiny glimmer of consolation are the overarching waste prevention targets secured for Member States (to reduce total levels of packaging waste by 5% by 2030 and 15% by 2040) to set a direction of travel for the packaging industry. Additionally, a long overdue ban on the use of  PFAS- and BPA – highly toxic and persistent substances – in food packaging was added by Parliament. 

Now the Member States in Council must adopt an ambitious mandate on reuse and packaging waste prevention in order to redress the course of this important policy. The regulation is expected to enter trilogues in the beginning of 2024 with only a limited amount of time to adopt the text before the European elections. 

Faced with record levels of waste, MEPs chose to side with throw-away packaging producers and fast food giants. Deleting provisions which would simultaneously reduce waste, scale up reuse and create new economic opportunities for Europe – they served the interest of polluters today. While the EU claims to be leading the way towards a circular economy, its lawmakers did not even have the courage to stop fruit being unnecessarily wrapped in plastic or to promote the use of plates in restaurants

Marco Musso, Senior Policy Officer for Circular Economy at the European Environmental Bureau

The outcome goes beyond outrageous: all meaningful restrictions were removed. The very few that remain will actually increase paper packaging, as they are only aimed at curtailing plastic. This spells disaster for forests not only in Europe but all over the world. We already cut down 3 billion trees for packaging alone. Thanks to the European Parliament, the grotesque paper packaging demand will continue to grow. It’s utterly unsustainable.

Sergio Baffoni, Senior Paper Packaging Campaigner at the Environmental Paper Network

Notes for editors: 
About:

Rethink Plastic is an alliance of leading European NGOs, representing thousands of active groups, supporters and citizens in every EU Member State.

We are part of the global Break Free From Plastic movement, consisting of over 11,000 organisations and individuals worldwide demanding an end to plastic pollution.

The Rethink Plastic alliance has been working on the packaging file together with an informal alliance of NGOs with expert knowledge and hands-on experience on the entire lifecycle of plastics and paper. The members of this informal coalition are Zero Waste Europe, European Environmental Bureau, ECOS, ClientEarth, Deutsche Umwelthilfe, Recycling Netwerk Benelux, Fern and the Environmental Paper Network.

In Strasbourg, environmental NGOs join at the European Parliament, packaging in hand

On Tuesday 21 November, members of various environmental NGOs1 join next to Strasbourg’s European parliament building with packaging waste in hand to urge them not to give in to the siren calls of industry lobbying as they vote this week on the European Regulation on packaging and packaging waste.

After an initial vote in the European Parliament’s ENVI Committee – the lead committee on this file – at the end of October, a plenary vote is scheduled on 22 November at 12:00. Following the EP plenary vote, member states need to agree on the Council position under the Spanish presidency before trialogue negotiations are supposed to start in early 2024. EU officials aim to adopt the legislation during this Commission mandate still.

Crucial regulation to reduce packaging

This text represents a major opportunity for the transition of packaging systems and distribution models, at a time when it is crucial to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, pollution and the use of resources in all sectors. The European Commission’s intention was for 100% of all packaging to be recyclable or reusable by 2030, with the definition of criteria for recycling on a large scale, the elimination of unnecessary packaging and over-packaging, and targets for reusable packaging broken down by sector.

When adopted, this regulation will apply directly to the entire European Union.

If it is less ambitious than the French law, then there is a very real risk that the progress achieved through the AGEC law will be called into question. This is why it is essential to be very ambitious and to allow countries that have already made progress to go beyond the targets set, in particular, by formulating targets that are minimum targets.

Powerful industrial lobbies helped weaken the EP position

The stakes are high: The packaging, paper-cardboard and fast-food industry lobbies are waging an intense campaign to water down the text, revise its objectives downwards and obtain exemptions.

Following the examination of the text by the European Parliament’s ENVI Committee, several measures have been weakened:

● The targets for the reuse of beverages and transport packaging are maintained, but with sometimes watered-down wording, deadlines and the possibility of exemption on the basis of “access to infrastructure” or “peer-reviewed studies”, etc.

● The wine and takeaway reuse targets have unfortunately been dropped.

● The provisions of Article 7 remain worrying: Zero Waste France, Surfrider Foundation Europe, and their European partners oppose the use of bio-based plastic to meet the recycled content target for plastic packaging, as well as the use of a credit-based system for plastic.

A few improvements

Other important measures have been retained or added:

● Prevention of unnecessary packaging and packaging formats, with restrictions on single-use food and drink packaging for on-site catering in the hotel and restaurant sector, as well as on certain packaging formats offering individual portions (single-dose condiments for catering, hygiene and care products in hotels);

● Chemicals in products, with a ban on the intentional addition of PFAS and Bisphenol A to packaging within 18 months of the regulation coming into force;

● “Free” tap water: a provision has been added to ensure that Member States allow customers to request free or low-cost tap water in restaurants, canteens, bars, cafés, etc.

This week’s vote: a key milestone

Given the way the vote in the ENVI committee went (with amendments to delete the text tabled but fortunately not adopted), the vote in plenary, scheduled for 22 November, will be a key milestone. The lobbying efforts of industry, which have been intensively deployed over the last few months of negotiations, have reduced the ambition of the text without proposing a credible alternative to tackle the growing problem of packaging waste. The latest Eurostat data revealed: EU citizens created an average of 188kg packaging waste per capita, this is a 10kg increase in just 2 years.

The Parliament’s current position is significantly weaker than the Commission’s proposal and the text under discussion in the Council, particularly as regards reduction and reuse. Ahead of the vote, many MEPs tabled amendments to further water down provisions on unnecessary packaging and reuse . The risk is the adoption of new derogations from the re-use targets for the drinks sector for example, dragging down re-use in Europe. It is essential that the Parliament maintains as much ambition as possible to ensure that the packaging wastre crisis can be contained.
 

_______________________________________

List of NGOs present: The European coalition Rethink Plastic Alliance represented by Surfrider Foundation Europe, Zero Waste Europe, Zero Waste France, European Environmental Bureau and the Envrionmental Paper Network.

The French NGO On est prêt also joined the event.

A propos de Rethink Plastic Alliance

Rethink Plastic is an alliance of leading European NGOs, with thousands of active groups, supporters and citizens in every EU Member State.

We bring together policy and technical expertise from a variety of relevant fields, and work with European policy-makers to design and deliver policy solutions for a future that is free from plastic pollution.

We are part of the global Break Free From Plastic movement, made up of 11,000 organizations and individual supporters from across the world who are demanding massive reductions in single-use plastics and to push for lasting solutions to the plastic pollution crisis.

CONTACT:

For Rethink Plastic Alliance

Caroline Will | +49 1590 1425817 | [email protected]

For Surfrider Foundation Europe
Lionel Cheylus | +33 6 08 10 58 02 | [email protected]

For Zero Waste France

Manon Richert | +33 (0)7 52 02 59 70 | [email protected]

For On Est Prêt

Xavière Bourbonnaud | +33 6 67 05 75 79 | [email protected]

Important step towards ending waste colonialism: EU agrees to ban the export of its plastic waste to non-OECD countries

Early this morning, and after several months of negotiations, the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of the EU are understood to have reached an agreement to address the harmful practice of the EU’s plastic waste trade, in the context of the revision of the EU Waste Shipment Regulation. The Rethink Plastic alliance and Break Free From Plastic applaud the landmark decision to end plastic waste exports to non-OECD countries in two and a half years but regret that the EU institutions did not agree to stop exporting its plastic waste to all countries. The details, including whether safeguarding policies for intra-EU shipments have been adopted, are yet to be published.  

The EU Waste Shipment Regulation outlines obligations for all waste traded both within the EU and exports to third countries. For many years it has been evidenced that EU plastic waste shipments pose unique and significant issues and so specific measures were needed to address this particular waste stream. 

The reason for such measures are clear. The plastic waste trade causes significant environmental and human health harm, which is exacerbated by illicit waste trafficking and recycling capacity displacement. The EU is one of the largest producers of plastic waste per capita, one of the largest exporters of plastic waste in the world and is battling significant levels of waste crime, both within the EU and beyond, as a result of continued exports and a lack of safeguarding policies. By way of example, in 2022 the EU exported more than one million tonnes of its plastic waste to countries where plastic waste imports have been mismanaged, dumped or openly burned: 50 per cent of it went to non-OECD countries like Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand whilst 33 per cent was shipped to Türkiye alone. 

As such, the Break Free From Plastic movement and the Rethink Plastic alliance have been strongly advocating for the EU to end the export of plastic waste outside the Union and EFTA, to both OECD (e.g. Türkiye) and non-OECD (e.g. Malaysia) countries in addition to highlighting the need for increased safeguarding policies for intra-EU shipments.

In November 2021, the European Commission published a legislative proposal seeking to ensure that the EU does not export its waste challenges to third countries, make it easier to transport waste for recycling and reuse in the EU, and to better tackle illegal waste shipments. While the details of what has been agreed have yet to be communicated in full, it seems that exactly two years after the publication of the proposal, the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council agreed that: 

  • Exporting plastic waste to non-OECD countries is to be prohibited within 2.5 years
  • Obligations for exporting plastic waste to OECD countries is to be strengthened 
  • Shipping of waste destined for disposal in another EU country to be allowed only exceptionally
Expert voices

Lauren Weir, Senior Campaigner at the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) on behalf of the Rethink Plastic alliance commented:

“While the details of what has been agreed have yet to be communicated in full, we are relieved to hear that the EU has agreed to ban EU plastic waste exports to non-OECD countries, whilst enacting stronger safeguarding measures for exports to OECD countries. Whilst this is an improvement to current obligations, the evidence of the harms and necessity for a full plastic waste ban are clear. This is a signal that the EU is finally beginning to take responsibility for its role in the global plastic pollution emergency. It is now for EU Member States to ensure that every effort is made so that future EU plastic waste exports are managed in an environmentally sound manner and do not negatively impact the recycling capacities of recipient countries – whether this is possible remains to be seen. Huge congratulations to all the advocates and communities around the world who made this outcome a reality and to the EU policymakers who took a stand.”

Dr. Sedat Gündoğdu, a microplastics researcher at Çukurova University in Türkiye commented:

“The ban of plastic waste exports to non-OECD countries is a significant decision, however, it is disappointing to not see a total export ban on shipments – and not even a ban on hazardous and mixed plastic waste –  to Turkey, which is both the largest importer of plastic waste in the EU and an OECD member.  We know from past practices that partial bans and ineffective content controls do not prevent the illegal circulation of plastic waste. While this decision represents a step forward in the right direction, these new regulations imply that Turkey may be exposed to more EU plastic waste. The crucial point here is how to ensure that there are no negative environmental impacts and that waste management infrastructure is not adversely affected. Now, our only option is to strive for the environmentally sound management of future exports of EU plastic waste by EU Member States and to ensure that it does not adversely affect the waste management of importing countries. I hope this is not simply wishful thinking.”

Pui Yi Wong, with the Basel Action Network and based in Malaysia added

“Many of us living in non-OECD countries face relentless illegal dumping, open burning, and microplastic pollution in the vicinity of plastic recycling facilities. We are reassured that the EU has heard our pleas and is acknowledging the horrific impacts caused by over-consumption of plastic and the export of its waste. Time is ripe for other high-income countries to also take responsibility – the USA, the United Kingdom, Japan, among others. We look forward to a world where countries focus on reducing plastic production and waste, instead of sending waste abroad. We stand in solidarity with OECD recipients of EU plastic waste, where evidence of pollution and harm caused by imported plastic waste has been clear.

The agreement found today will have to be formally adopted by the European Parliament and the Council in the coming weeks. To complement the measures in the Waste Shipment Regulation, the Rethink Plastic alliance and Break Free From Plastic movement call on the EU and its Member States to support robust legally binding provisions on plastic waste trade in the international legally binding instrument to end plastic pollution that is currently being negotiated under the auspices of the United Nations. In addition, to ensure packaging waste to manage is reduced, we call on the European Parliament and the Council to support ambitious measures on packaging waste prevention as well as on reuse systems for packaging in the context of the ongoing revision of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation. 

Contact : Paul Newman, EIA UK Senior Press & Communications Officer, via [email protected] or +44 (0) 20 7354 7983


Notes for editors: 
  • More than 180.000 people signed a joint petition from the Rethink Plastic alliance, the Environmental Investigation Agency, the #BreakFreeFromPlastic movement, Eko and WeMove, urging the EU to ban plastic waste exports to both non-OECD and OECD countries. The petition was delivered to EU decision-makers before this last decisive meeting. 
  • The Rethink Plastic alliance’s top 5 recommendations for the revision of the Waste Shipment Regulation can be found here. 
  • Please refer to Rethink Plastic alliance  and EIA’s Truth behind Trash and Plastic Waste Power Play reports for background on the impact of the global plastic waste trade. 
About:

Rethink Plastic is an alliance of leading European NGOs, representing thousands of active groups, supporters and citizens in every EU Member State. We are part of the global Break Free From Plastic movement, consisting of over 11,000 organisations and individuals worldwide demanding an end to plastic pollution.

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) investigates and campaigns against environmental crime and abuse. Its undercover investigations expose transnational wildlife crime, with a focus on elephants, pangolins and tigers and forest crimes such as illegal logging and deforestation for cash crops such as palm oil. It works to safeguard global marine ecosystems by addressing the threats posed by plastic pollution, bycatch and commercial exploitation of whales, dolphins and porpoises. Finally, it works to avert climate catastrophe by strengthening and enforcing regional and international agreements that tackle short-lived climate super-pollutants, including ozone-depleting substances, hydrofluorocarbons and methane, and advocating corporate and policy measures to promote transition to a sustainable cooling sector and away from fossil fuels. It uses its findings in hard-hitting reports to campaign for new legislation, improved governance and more effective enforcement. Its field experience is used to provide guidance to enforcement agencies and it forms partnerships with local groups and activists and support their work through hands-on training. 

180,000 sign petition for a ban on EU plastic waste trade exports

Over 180,000 individuals have signed the joint petition in support of this call for a ban on EU plastic waste export, to end the unethical and exploitative practice of the EU’s current plastic waste trade.

The EU produces more plastic waste than European recycling capacities can handle, as well as a lot of unrecyclable plastic waste, which it exports to other countries, along with all the health impacts and environmental damage that comes with it. The EU is one of the largest exporters of plastic waste in the world. Last year the EU exported more than one million tonnes of its plastic waste. 51% of it went to lower-income countries like Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand in Asia, 33% went to Türkiye.

Despite recipient countries placing import restrictions, bans and protections, EU plastic waste exports are still being illegally shipped, burned and dumped or take up limited domestic recycling capacity in recipient countries. This causes significant health problems, especially for workers and local communities and harms the environment.

In early 2023, the EU Parliament adopted its negotiating position for a revised law to overhaul EU waste shipments and endorsed a prohibition on exporting plastic waste beyond the EU and EFTA. Subsequently, the Waste Shipment Regulation has advanced to the Trilogue phase of the legislative process, where negotiations between the European Parliament and the Council are taking place to reach a consensus on the final version of the revised Waste Shipment Regulation.

Unfortunately, the Council (representing EU member countries) did not demonstrate a similar level of commitment towards preventing further harm caused by EU plastic waste exports in their position. As a result, is now subject to negotiation between the European Parliament, the Council and the European Commission.

This collective petition carries a potent message directed at the Council and EU Environmental Ministers, underscoring the substantial public backing for putting an end to the EU’s plastic waste exports as the last trilogue meeting in November 2023 approaches, alongside the third round of negotiations for a Global Plastics Treaty.

“The negative impact of EU plastic waste exports has been clearly evidenced and a ban is in line with EU international obligations. This unethical practice should never have happened in the first place – let’s put an end to it now.” – Lauren Weir, Senior Campaigner, Environmental Investigation Agency

The transboundary movement of plastic waste is not a commercial venture, but rather a form of pollution transfer from the global north to the global south. This practice is colonialism and pollutes the environment by disrupting the waste management infrastructure of the receiving countries. This practice can only be stopped by a total ban.” – Sedat Gündoğdu, Microplastic Research Group, Türkiye

“What our petition shows is that there is strong support from the public to make plastic waste exports from the EU a thing of the past. We are raising a signal to EU countries and emphasizing the vital role that a ban on EU plastic waste exports can play in mitigating global plastic pollution and ending the practice of waste colonialism.” – Justine Maillot, European Coordinator, Break Free From Plastic

“Africa is not yet free from colonialism; colonialism continues to manifest itself in the form of waste trade that allows for the importation of toxic and non-recyclable waste into the African continent from Global North countries. All countries need to take responsibility for how they produce, manage and dispose of their waste and find better solutions for their waste instead of externalising the problem. BFFP Africa joins the collective voices demanding a full and complete ban on plastic waste exports from the EU. Africa is not a dumping ground!” – Merrisa Naidoo, Africa Plastic Campaigner, Break Free From Plastic

Lead European Parliament committee dilutes Commission packaging law proposal with countless concessions to fast-food industry

Brussels, 24 October 2023
For immediate distribution

Today, the European Parliament’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) voted on its report on the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation, reacting to the proposal issued by the European Commission in November 2022. After months of difficult negotiations with heavy industry pressure in the background, the committee ended up accepting the lukewarm Compromise Amendments proposed by the Rapporteur on the file, Belgian Renew MEP Frédérique Ries. On some of the main sticking points, such as on packaging prevention and mainstreaming of reuse systems, the scales were tipped by three or four votes.

“The average lifetime of a packaging item does not exceed 20 minutes before it is thrown into a bin. Decision-makers should harness their regulatory power to drive ambition and support the mainstreaming of existing, proven solutions such as restrictions on certain types of packaging as well as reuse systems to reduce record-high amounts of packaging waste. Allowing business-as-usual practices to continue fuels the triple climate, biodiversity and pollution crisis.”

Ioana Popescu, Rethink Plastic Coordinator
Reactions and analyses from our members and partners:

The ENVI position just adopted holds many exemptions and derogations which do not only reduce the environmental ambition of the regulation, it will undermine its future enforcement as well. Ahead of the European Parliament plenary vote, which is expected for the week of 20th November, the Rethink Plastic alliance and partner NGOs call on MEPs to fix loopholes introduced by the compromises and safeguard environmental ambition in the face of the packaging waste crisis. The current Spanish Presidency compromise text as well as the initial Commission proposal hold considerably more promise towards slashing packaging waste.


Notes for editors: 
About:

Rethink Plastic is an alliance of leading European NGOs, representing thousands of active groups, supporters and citizens in every EU Member State.

We are part of the global Break Free From Plastic movement, consisting of over 11,000 organisations and individuals worldwide demanding an end to plastic pollution.

The Rethink Plastic alliance has been working together with an informal alliance of NGOs with expert knowledge on the entire lifecycle of plastics and paper. The members of this informal coalition are Zero Waste Europe, European Environmental Bureau, ECOS, ClientEarth, Surfrider Foundation, Deutsche Umwelthilfe, Recycling Network Benelux, Fern and the Environmental Paper Network.

Right-wing coalition and fast-food lobby aim to further sabotage new EU packaging law

Brussels, 20 October 2023
For immediate distribution

On Tuesday, the European Parliament’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) will vote on its report on the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation. 

The latest official Eurostat data revealed that Europe’s packaging waste crisis had reached a new record of 188.7kg of packaging waste per capita in 2021. A 10.8kg per capita increase in waste compared to 2020.

In the shadows of this trash mountain, a coalition of Italian MEPs, and lobbyists from the fast-food and single-use packaging industry have pressured parliament to significantly water down measures aiming to curtail the record levels of waste. 

Earlier, a coalition of NGOs working together against plastic pollution and deforestation had warned policy makers of both the risks of growing levels of single-use plastic and paper packaging waste, as well as promoted the economic and environmental opportunity of reusable packaging. 

Yet, during negotiations, policy makers across political groups were alarmed at never-seen-before levels of lobbying from the packaging industry. Environment Committee Chair MEP Pascal Canfin publicly condemned the misleading lobbying strategy from companies like McDonalds.

Under intense pressure, the Rapporteur MEP Frederique Ries and other shadow MEPs working on the file gave in and weakened key measures on prevention and reuse. 

On Tuesday, Members of the Parliament’s ENVI committee will be presented with two main options: a severely watered-down set of compromises offered by the Rapporteur, or an even less ambitious text championed by Italian MEPs from ECR and EPP and mirroring demands from the packaging industry. The latter would remove almost all obligations on the packaging sector to reduce waste levels beyond promoting recycling – a set of measures entirely insufficient to solve Europe’s waste crisis. 

The outcome of the vote will be a test of whether the European Parliament can resist unprecedented levels of lobbying, and determine if Europe can offer a credible solution to the packaging waste crisis.

“The compromises put forward by the Rapporteur are far from sufficient to reverse the trend in ever-increasing packaging waste and are generally weakening the Commission’s proposal. But we are very worried that these bare-minimum compromises may not even make it through the very Parliament committee whose function it is to protect the environment and human health.”

Ioana Popescu, Coordinator of the Rethink Plastic alliance

“If we want to reduce garbage and protect European and tropical forests, we must urgently curb increasing reliance on single-use packaging. It is deeply disturbing that McDonald’s’ lobbyists might actually succeed in gutting the PPWR. The ban on unnecessary single-use packaging such as throwaway plates and cups – be they plastic or paper – must pass Tuesday’s vote. Otherwise, the immense human and environmental damage wrought by the single-use packaging industry will continue unabated.”

Sergio Baffoni, Senior Campaign Coordinator at Environmental Paper Network

Ahead of the European Parliament ENVI vote, Rethink Plastic, Fern and the European Paper Network call on MEPs to vote for an environmentally ambitious revision of the Packaging and Packaging Waste regulation, and in particular to support Ries’ bare-minimum compromise amendments on reuse targets and unnecessary packaging. 

Notes for editors:
About:

Rethink Plastic is an alliance of leading European NGOs, representing thousands of active groups, supporters and citizens in every EU Member State. We are part of the global Break Free From Plastic movement, consisting of over 11,000 organisations and individuals worldwide demanding an end to plastic pollution.

The Rethink Plastic alliance has been working together with an informal alliance of NGOs with expert knowledge on the entire lifecycle of plastics and paper. The members of this informal coalition are Zero Waste EuropeEuropean Environmental BureauECOSClientEarthDeutsche UmwelthilfeRecycling Network BeneluxFern and the Environmental Paper Network.

Rethink Plastic alliance welcomes proposal on pellet pollution, but urges Commission to also tackle the other major sources of microplastics pollution

Brussels, October 16, 2023 
For immediate distribution 


Today, the European Commission published a rather disappointing proposal for a regulation on pellet loss and a brochure summarising ongoing activities on microplastics which fails to adequately address the main sources of unintentional microplastic pollution. After many years of waiting for an ambitious and comprehensive proposal, NGOs are relieved that the European Commission has finally addressed pellet loss with some measures, but at the same time are deeply concerned that the European Commission has decided against quick and ambitious steps to prevent microplastic emissions from other sources. 

Each year, an estimated one million tonnes of microplastics are released into the environment. The accumulation of toxic substances found in microplastic particles has dangerous effects on wildlife and humans alike, which has been widely documented in scientific research.  One source of microplastic pollution is from plastic production pellets, flakes, or powders – the raw material used to manufacture larger plastic products. These pellets are toxic and hazardous when spilled into the environment, due to their chemical additives and ability to absorb additional surrounding chemicals, and be ingested by fauna or carry around invasive species or pathogens. Until now, an ineffective voluntary scheme among producers called Operation Clean Sweep was the only measure in place.  

Some parts of the proposal are promising: prevention given priority, mandatory certification, transparency in reporting, access to justice and penalty measures, particularly when it comes to larger operators. Unfortunately, there are no minimum requirements and some concerning loopholes: the scope is incomplete – the proposal seemingly excludes flakes and powders that present the same risk as pellets – and there are too many exemptions – for example the exemption for micro- and small companies handling below 5 tonnes per year. This is not the quick and ambitious approach that NGOs had hoped for. 

Microplastics can also be released into the environment unintentionally through degradation of synthetic textiles, paints, vehicle tyres and other macroplastics, which the Commission brochure recognises as major pollution sources to be tackled. As these products are worn and used, they shed fragments and micro- and nanoplastics that eventually fly away or wash down drains and end up in our ocean or terrestrial ecosystems.  

The Rethink Plastic alliance has been campaigning for an ambitious and comprehensive political framework to address the issue of unintentional release of microplastics from all sources for several years. This unambitious proposal – both in its scope and content – misses the mark and fails to fight microplastic pollution in a timely manner through a comprehensive and mandatory set of effective measures at the pollution source.  

We call on the European Parliament and Council to introduce amendments to fill the proposal’s gaps highlighted above and ensure robust measures to combat microplastic pollution are adopted in the short term. Only with preventative steps and strict, upstream control of all main contributing sources can we keep the planet clean and plastic free.  

Expert voices

Frédérique Mongodin, Senior Marine Litter Policy Officer at Seas At Risk said:  

“To achieve the ambitious target set out in the zero pollution action plan of cutting microplastics emissions by 30% by 2030, the Commission chose to focus legislative action on plastic pellets and microplastics added to products, the easiest sources of microplastic pollution to control. Although understandable in light of the adversity currently facing the EU Green Deal in both Parliament and Council, the European executive’s strategy signals curtailed ambition in addressing all responsible sources of microplastic pollution with swift and binding measures.” 

Lucie Padovani, Marine Litter Lobbying Officer at Surfrider Europe added:

“We are relieved the European Commission has at long last released its proposal for regulation to address plastic pellet pollution in the EU. The proposal includes welcomed provisions that will facilitate access to justice and set penalties on companies that have until now been polluting with close to total impunity. However, we deeply deplore the EC’s proposal to introduce multiple derogations for micro and small companies, as well as companies which operate in installations handling below 1000 tonnes of pellets despite their significant contribution to today’s pollution. These derogations champion the very status quo responsible for wreaking havoc on our precious marine ecosystems and posing excessive risks on human health.”

Amy Youngman, Legal and Policy Specialist at the Environmental Investigation Agency said:

“The exponential expansion of plastic production means the exponential transportation of plastic pellets around the world. While we welcome the Commission’s proposal to target pellets throughout the supply chain and address this critical issue, we feel that the EC’s proposal can go further in achieving the necessary ambition to effectively reduce one of the sources of microplastic pollution with the most straightforward solutions. We thus look forward to the EU strengthening its proposal for more robust and comprehensive measures including improving the scope of the proposal and certain mandatory minimum measures to be adopted by the Commission in a more timely manner than currently proposed.”

Media contacts: 

  • Caroline Will, Communications Coordinator at the Rethink Plastic alliance, Phone: +32456560705. E-Mail: [email protected] 
  • Lionel Cheylus, Medias Relations Officer for Surfrider Foundation Europe. Phone : +33608105802 Email : [email protected] 

ENDS


The Rethink Plastic alliance works on tackling microplastic pollution from all sources together with Fauna & Flora International and Pew Charitable Trusts.