European Commision finally restricts intentional use of microplastics in first concrete victory for ecosystems and human health

Brussels, 25 September, 2023
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The deliberate use of microplastics in products such as sports pitches, detergents, diapers and cosmetics – to name just a few – is a significant and dangerous source of plastic pollution. Every year, around 42 000 tonnes of these harmful microplastics end up in every corner of our planet. They accumulate in our oceans and mountains. They are found in animals, food, drinking water and ultimately – our blood and organs. 

In 2017, the European Commission asked the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) to propose measures to address the pollution caused by microplastics used in products. Two years later, the ECHA made an ambitious proposal to ban all intentionally added microplastics, unless they meet criteria for specific derogations, such as being biodegradable. However, some products like artificial sports pitches and cosmetics were granted excessively long transition periods within the proposal, despite the fact that sustainable and effective alternatives are already readily available on the market. Furthermore, additional legislative measures on other microplastic sources are still needed to fully meet the 30% reduction target for microplastic pollution by 2030.

Today, after years of discussion at the ECHA, and negotiations between the European Commission and EU member states, the restriction has finally been adopted on 25th September [1]. It will formally enter into force twenty days.

Having followed and supported the restriction process from the start, the Rethink Plastic Alliance is relieved to see the text finally adopted and will now put its full support into ensuring quick and effective enforcement.

This ban could substantially contribute to the elimination of unnecessary plastics from our environment but requires the active commitment of all stakeholders, including national governments and local municipalities, civil society and industry to be properly enforced. We urge all companies that add microplastics to their products, especially those that are exempt from the restriction or that have been afforded longer transition periods to start using safe, microplastic-free alternatives imminently.

Expert voices

Hélène Duguy, Law and Policy Adviser at ClientEarth said:

“After so many years of work, we are thrilled that decision makers supported the restriction. Despite several loopholes, it is a concrete victory for the protection of our ecosystems and human health. 

The process has shown just how harmful microplastics pollution is –  but also how easy it is for many sectors to replace them with harmless alternatives in their products. However, there is still a lot of work left to do and the implementation of this restriction may prove challenging. This is why we are calling on governments and companies to step up now and eliminate harmful microplastics from their products.”  

Lucie Padovani, Marine Litter Lobbying Officer at Surfrider Foundation Europe

“This restriction marks a significant stride towards the EU’s target of reducing microplastic emissions by at least 30% by 2030. Microplastic-free products will contribute to safeguarding the Ocean from a preventable source of harmful plastic particles entering through waterways. While empowering consumers with clearer consumption choices, this milestone underscores the importance of industry innovation and long-term vision to address this challenge head-on.”

Dolores Romano, Policy Manager for Chemicals at the European Environmental Bureau

“This restriction shows how authorities can protect people and the environment from large groups of hazardous chemicals when there is a political will to do so. We welcome this restriction and encourage the Commission to keep banning groups of highly hazardous chemicals and plastics such as bisphenols, phthalates, flame retardants or PVC, as promised under the Green Deal.”

Media contact: 

[1] Please find the text version adopted here.

Paper-based food packaging at the centre of Europe’s waste crisis, new report reveals

Brussels, September 12th 2023
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Paper-based food packaging is marketed as a sustainable alternative to plastics although it is usually combined with plastics or other chemical coatings, it rarely includes recycled content, and it drives global  deforestation and industrial water consumption, shows a new report by an NGO coalition consisting of the European Environmental Bureau, Zero Waste Europe, Fern, Environmental Paper Network and the Rethink Plastic alliance.

With the EU currently revising its rules to deal with the uncontrolled growth of packaging waste, the report investigates whether single-use paper represents a credible solution for Europe’s growing waste crisis  – an argument regularly presented in expensive and far-reaching lobbying campaigns from packaging producers and fast-food brands. To look into this, the NGO coalition consisting of organisations typically focused on plastic pollution partnered with deforestation NGOs and commissioned a study from the independent research organisation Profundo. 

Exposing the greenwashing of paper packaging: the brutal deforestation, biodiversity loss and water scarcity reality

The analysis revealed that paper-based packaging is the largest source of packaging waste in the EU. With 32.7 million tonnes of waste generated in 2020, paper alone makes up for more trash than the two next largest waste material streams, plastic and glass, combined. The report exposes paper-based packaging as a major driver of deforestation in Europe and across the globe. Around 90% of paper pulp is made from wood, and paper production is responsible for about 35% of all clear-felled trees.

The report reveals that Brazil is Europe’s biggest provider of pulp and paper, providing more to Europe than the region’s biggest producers – Sweden and Finland. Brazil tripled its pulp production in the last two decades and it now covers an area of 7.2 million hectares – twice the surface of Belgium. Eucalyptus and pine plantations in Brazil are exacerbating water scarcity, forest fires and biodiversity loss. Within Europe, Finnish forests have become a net emitter of carbon dioxide due to overlogging and 76% of Finnish forest habitats are classified as threatened. 

Sergio Baffoni, Campaign Coordinator at the Environmental Paper Network, said “On average, three billion trees are cut each year for global paper packaging – and this is set to rise. The European Commission proposes banning all single-use packaging in restaurants. This is a good place to start when it comes to reducing pressure on forests. To curb growing demands for pulp, the EU should also phase out single-use paper-based packaging for takeaway.”

Hazardous chemicals in paper packaging hamper recycling and endanger consumer health

The report reveals the serious limitations of recycling for food and drinks paper-based packaging. Food and beverage packaging is nearly always combined with plastics or chemicals to make it water-proof or resistant to grease, which impedes the recycling process. This means that in practice, food packaging is often incinerated or landfilled. This shows that recycling alone will definitely not be enough to mitigate the growing demand of virgin fiber led by the uncontrolled growth of single-use paper packaging. The combination of paper with plastics and chemicals also puts the credentials of paper packaging regarding consumer safety in a new light: 

Dorota Napierska, Toxic-free Circular Economy Policy Officer at Zero Waste Europe said: “Repeated lab tests are revealing  that hazardous chemicals – including those that can cause cancer and disturb our hormones such as PFAS – are present in paper and cardboard food packaging, and that they migrate from the packaging material and end up in consumers’ bodies.” 

Time for real solutions – EU must promote reuse instead of single-use paper and plastic

The ongoing revision of the EU rules to deal with packaging waste is Europe’s greatest chance to put an end to our addiction to  the wasteful take-make-dispose model of single-use packaging. The report concludes that the EU and Member States should promote well-designed reuse systems to credibly prevent waste generation. 

Marco Musso, Senior Policy Officer for Circular Economy at the European Environmental Bureau said: ”This study sounds the alarm on the false solutions of substituting one single-use material for another. The public and policy makers are being misled about the sustainability and circularity of paper-based food packaging. To credibly prevent waste EU decision-makers must focus on restricting avoidable packaging while promoting efficient and convenient reuse systems. This is particularly crucial in the food & drinks sector which accounts for two-thirds of the total packaging market in Europe.”

Media contact: 
Notes to the Editor: 
  • The European Parliament and the Council of the EU are currently considering a European Commission proposal for a new Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR), which would replace an existing Directive. For NGO perspectives on the draft PPWR as it relates to paper packaging, see this position paper.
  • Paper-based packaging remains the largest source of packaging waste in the European Union (41.1%) .Totalling 32.7 million tonnes in 2020, paper-based waste is more than the total of the next largest materials combined – plastic (19.4%) and glass (19.1%).
  • Paper-based materials are increasingly being used to package food and beverages. The food and beverage industry represents two-thirds of the total packaging market in Europe. Globally, paper- and paperboard-based packaging account for approximately 37% of food packaging demand.

Industry Committee attempt to undermine new EU packaging law

The European Parliament’s Committees on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE), Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) and Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI) Committees all vote on their respective reports on the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation this week, reacting to the proposal tabled by the European Commission in November 2022. 

Although leadership of the file remains with the Environment Committee who will not vote until September, the three reports set a worrying tone for the landmark waste file. 

Today, ITRE Committee voted with 58 in favour, 11 against and 3 abstentions on the report,  led by Italian Socialist MEP Patrizia Toia which was voted as a single compromise.

Mirroring the requests of the laggards in the packaging industry, the report decimated ambitions on reuse and waste prevention, deleting all reuse targets for the HORECA sector as well as all 2040 reuse targets across sectors. Further key provisions were also removed in the report such as mandatory deposit return systems for beverages and most of the measures to tackle unnecessary packaging. The industry committee also moved the definition of recyclability from the Commission-led delegated acts to the European standardisation body CEN, an opaque industry led body unlikely to help remove all non-recyclable packaging from the market by 2030. 

Due to its shared competency with the environment committee on aspects such as reuse and refill targets, the result in ITRE could endanger key provisions until the plenary vote expected in autumn 2023. Campaigners had already warned that too much flexibility in the new packaging law risked repeating the mistakes of the existing directive by permitting a business as usual approach from packaging producers. Similarly, the removal of waste prevention measures will make it impossible for Member States to deliver on waste prevention targets also included in the proposal. Continuing to offer derogations, loopholes and no legal certainty to the packaging market will maintain the current trajectory to ever growing levels of packaging waste and clearly undermines the objective to make all packaging reusable and recyclable by 2030. 

“Today’s vote by the Industry committee undermines the objectives of the regulation without offering any credible solutions to reduce packaging waste. The environment committee and the whole Parliament must reject this irresponsible attempt to defend wasteful practices which have led to record levels of packaging waste and pollution. Decision-makers should resist vested interest and seize this opportunity to promote more sustainable packaging practices.” Marco Musso, Senior Policy Officer – European Environmental Bureau

A vote in the IMCO Committee, also concluded yesterday, saw the draft report prepared by France’s right wing MEP Virginie Joron (ID) overturned by an alternative compromise text tabled by a conservative, socialist, liberal and green coalition. The outcome of the vote offered a glimmer of hope for the regulation. The alternative amendments included some improved provisions such as stronger requirements on online marketplaces to ensure compliance with extended producer responsibility fees. 

Discussions in the AGRI Committee are ongoing with a vote on their report, led by conservative MEP Salvatore De Meo, expected this afternoon. The report focuses on maximising flexibility on any provisions related to the food sector, including a raft of exemptions to reuse and waste prevention measures. The report also aims to delete reuse targets for 2040. 

Previously campaign groups warned Agricultural ministers not to be led astray by misinformation on the links between food safety  and single use packaging. Growing evidence also proves that record levels of packaging have not had a real impact on food waste.

“The outcome of today’s vote contradicts the Parliament’s commitments on the Circular Economy and the Green Deal. Up to now, EU policies have been focusing on managing waste rather than preventing it, and that led us to a packaging waste growth of 20% in 10 years. The need for ambitious waste prevention and reuse targets is unquestionable. It is very unfortunate that some industry players and MEPs are not seeing the opportunity behind the reuse targets, which has amazing potential for producers to achieve both resource and cost efficiency for their packaging. We hope the ENVI committee will correct the course and adopt a text that seizes the opportunity of reuse and waste prevention” Larissa Copello, Packaging & Reuse Policy Officer at Zero Waste Europe.

Rethink Plastic alliance and 81 organisations are calling for well-designed reuse systems in the PPWR revision to reduce packaging waste

Brussels, June 8, 2023
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The Rethink Plastic alliance and a coalition of 81 organisations, consisting of civil society organisations and businesses, are advocating for the integration of well-designed reuse systems as a catalyst for preventing packaging waste in the revision of the PPWR. In an Open Letter we are calling for strong reuse measures in the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR), specifically for our MEPs and Ministers to:

  1. Support the European Commission’s sectoral reuse targets, including for the takeaway sector;
  2. Critically assess evidence comparing reuse and single use packaging, challenge opaque methodologies and results, vested interests and unrealistic assumptions;
  3. Set economic incentives for reuse packaging systems (e.g: dedicated fund from Extended Producer Responsibility schemes).
Reusable Take-away Packaging – Seven Facts

The letter is accompanied by a Factsheet on 7 reasons why reusable take-away packaging is a sustainable alternative compared to single-use packaging. Im sum:

  1. Reusable take-away packaging is more climate-friendly than single-use packaging: The emissions associated with reusable packaging are spread out throughout its life-cycle according to the number of rotations it undergoes, but only to a certain break-even point (e.g: reusable plastic cups are more advantageous than all common single-use alternatives after only 10 cycles and for reusable meal boxes after 13-15 rotations on average).
  2. The cleaning of reusable take-away packaging uses less water than the production of single-use packaging: According to several independent researches, the water consumption of the production of single-use take-away packaging can be considered to be higher compared to the cleaning efforts for reusable packaging.
  3. Reusable take-away packaging gets recycled whereas the most common disposal scenario of single-use take-away packaging is incineration: The production and disposal scenarios of reusable packaging within reuse systems generally happen in a controlled environment since they operate within a system that includes an economic incentive to return the item. So when the packaging reaches its end of life it can be directly sent back to the system operator guaranteeing a safe and clean waste stream. By contrast, single-use takeaway packaging usually is disposed of in mixed waste bins either on the go or when consumed in-house, or littered in the environment.
  4. Support of bring-your-own packaging will not be sufficient to create a transition towards a circular packaging sector: ‘bring your own’ remains a concept for a niche of highly motivated consumers which does not sufficiently contribute to levelling the playing field between disposable and reusable packaging solutions, even if offered a discount, it is often not significant enough to incentive this practice. Therefore, ‘bring your own’ can be seen as a complementing measure to reuse quotas, but it is not sufficient to tackle the increase in single-use take-away packaging.
  5. Safe refilling of reusable packaging is possible in compliance with hygiene standards: The refill either for ‘bring your own’ or for reusable packaging in a reuse system can be well-implemented, taking hygiene standards into account. First of all, the food hygiene legislation (Regulation (EC) 852/2004) already regulates this practice as it covers all aspects of hygiene in all food businesses. Second, within reuse packaging systems the adequate infrastructure/logistics in place guarantees standards for hygiene throughout the whole process (distribution, take-back, washing and refilling of the packaging). 
  6. Paper packaging exerts pressure on forests and is not always recyclable: In the EU, half of all paper produced is now used for packaging with three billion trees being cut down annually around the world to meet the demand for paper packaging. On top of this pressure on forests, paper packaging is often coated with other materials like plastic and aluminium, which not only creates more waste but also hampers recycling. In addition, these packaging is frequently contaminated by food, which makes recycling impossible, so they mostly end up in landfills or incinerated. 
  7. Best Practices for the entire EU – Existing legislation and well-established reuse systems already in place in progressive Member States: Many Member States have already put in place in their national legislation specific measures supporting or mandating reusable packaging for the takeaway and horeca sector, including France, Portugal, Netherlands, Luxembourg and Germany. Also, many initiatives of reusable packaging for takeaway food and drinks already exist across Europe.
Expert voices from civil society and businesses

Quote from Larissa Copello, Reuse & Packaging Policy Officer at Zero Waste Europe:

‘There is proven evidence across the board on the benefits of reuse systems. Reuse systems are already well established in many EU countries, several of which are currently implementing further reuse measures. Also, in the past years we have seen more and more businesses moving towards a reuse model, establishing best practices and effectively reducing packaging waste at local and national level.
On the other hand, the evidence shows that the current EU packaging legislation has failed to address the issue of packaging waste, as recycling capabilities have proven to be insufficient to deal with the sheer amount of packaging waste. We don’t need more data or science to transition to reuse. Now we need action. What are EU politicians waiting for?’

Quote from Fernando Rodríguez-Mata Fernández, Director General New ERA (New European Reuse Alliance):

‘Business forerunners have been laying down the foundations of efficient, convenient and sustainable reuse systems across Europe over the last years, decades in the case of the beverages and the transport packaging sector.
Now, to unlock the potential environmental, economic and social impact of reuse systems, we need an ambitious EU policy establishing high reuse targets. This will push all stakeholders to reassess the status-quo and foster investments into truly closed loops business models that ultimately will benefit the planet, SMEs and communities.

Media contact

Larissa Copello, Reuse & Packaging Policy Officer at Zero Waste Europe. Phone: +32 472 56 53 98. E-Mail: [email protected]

Caroline Will, Rethink Plastic alliance Communications Coordinator.
Phone: +32456560705. E-Mail: [email protected]

Rethink Plastic alliance welcomes the EU restriction of intentionally-added microplastics, urges faster implementation

Brussels, April 26, 2023
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Today, the European Commission REACH Committee voted to adopt the European Commission proposal on the restriction of intentionally-added microplastics. The Rethink Plastic alliance welcomes the restriction of intentionally-added microplastics in products, notably in beauty products and on sports pitches. The alliance regrets, however, that companies are given an excessively long time period to implement the necessary changes. 

For example, make-up products can continue to contain microplastics for up to twelve years after the adoption of the restriction, even though cosmetic companies have stated that sustainable and effective alternatives are readily available on the market. Allowing the marketing of microplastics for use in sports pitches for eight years is unreasonable given the extent of the pollution stemming from this source and that organic alternatives, as well as infill-free sports pitches, are already in use in all EU regions. The exemptions for soluble and biodegradable polymers may result in the continued use of hazardous microplastics.

Each year more than 42,000 tonnes of microparticles are added to the environment, resulting in multiple negative impacts on living organisms and ecosystems. There is mounting evidence that microplastics also pose a significant risk to human health. The alliance has been advocating for the adoption of a fully comprehensive restriction that includes all microplastics including nanoplastics and all non-essential uses in its final scope.

Next Steps

Before the official adoption of these restrictions, the European Parliament and the Council of the EU will have a three-month scrutiny period, after which the Regulation will enter into force immediately. This regulation marks a crucial first step in stemming the plastic pollution problem at some of its sources and can pave the way for more comprehensive and ambitious regulations – such as those expected for unintentionally released microplastics – in the future.

Expert voices

Dolores Romano, Senior Policy Officer for Chemicals at the European Environmental Bureau said:

“This restriction is key to tackling the severe environmental damage caused by microplastics. But the effectiveness of the ban is weakened by the time it actually takes to implement the bans and the exemptions. This prompts us to call on authorities to implement additional measures in their respective countries to prevent further pollution by accelerating the elimination of these plastics.”

Hélène Duguy, law and policy advisor at ClientEarth, added:

“Today’s vote marks a significant step forward for public health and the environment. If implemented effectively, this restriction will prevent a massive amount of unnecessary pollution caused by these tiny pieces of plastics – which we are already seeing on mountains, in the ocean, in Arctic Sea ice, or in our blood. We will put our full support into the implementation of the ban and hope that everyone, including industry actors, joins in the effort.”  

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

“We welcome this long-awaited restriction, which proves that the urgency to tackle microplastic pollution has been acknowledged by Member States. We now hope that the sectors benefiting from longer transitional periods will meet the restriction targets before the deadline, by already starting to opt for sustainable investments, research, and development”. 

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

“This restriction on intentionally added microplastics in products is the first legislative attempt by the EU to prevent the chronic loss of plastic production pellets into the environment. The restriction includes measures that educate pellet users on proper and lossless pellet handling, and that will require annual loss reporting by industrial users. We are now pushing for additional measures at the EU level for the whole supply chain to be targeted and bound to manage pellets responsibly.”

Media contact

Caroline Will, Rethink Plastic alliance Communications Coordinator.
Phone: +32 487 34 72 15. E-Mail: [email protected]

Rethink Plastic alliance disappointed by yet another delay on the EU restriction of intentionally-added microplastics

Brussels, March 2 2023

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The Rethink Plastic alliance is disappointed by the postponement of a crucial EU vote meant to be held yesterday on the restriction of intentionally-added microplastics.

With pollution amounting to more than 40,000 tonnes of microparticles yearly, resulting in multiple negative impacts on the environment and with growing evidence highlighting the potential of harm to people’s health, the alliance has made their stance clear: the sooner the adoption of a fully comprehensive restriction on microplastics, without detraction or delay, the better. 

Hélène Duguy, law and policy advisor at ClientEarth, said: “Microplastics are wreaking havoc on our environment and this restriction has already been years in the making. We hope this latest delay just means that Member States are making the final tweaks to ensure that the restriction is up to the task. We’re looking forward to seeing a solid restriction adopted at the next meeting.” 

Dolores Romano, Senior Policy Officer for Chemicals at the European Environmental Bureau, added: 

“This restriction is key to tackling the severe environmental damage caused by microplastics. But the proposal weakens the effectiveness of the ban because of the time it would take to implement the restriction in case of certain uses, and also because of the soluble and biodegradable polymers exemptions. We call on Member States to vote for the elimination of these tiny plastics  without delay and prevent unnecessary microplastics pollution.

Lucie Padovani, Marine Litter Lobbying Officer at Surfrider Europe said: “Care brands such as Weleda, Naif and others have recently written to the REACH Committee to support a restriction of intentionally-added microplastics. They’re calling for the restriction to come into force as soon as possible. The restriction of intentionally added microplastics is highly awaited – not only by NGOs, civil society and consumers but also by part of the industry. We sincerely hope that this call for action will be taken into account shortly enough, as every further delay implies increasing impacts on the environment.”

The alliance urges EU Member States to conduct a vote as soon as possible and support a restriction by supporting a restriction that includes all microplastics including nanoplastics and all non-essential uses in its final scope.

For more information contact:  Niamh Cullen, Rethink Plastic alliance Communications Coordinator
+32 497 83 23 24  Email: [email protected] 

Plastic Soup Foundation, Rethink Plastic alliance and 20 cosmetic brands express crucial necessity for complete ban for intentionally added microplastics, as EU vote is upcoming

23 February 2023

The Rethink Plastic alliance, together with the Plastic Soup Foundation and 20 cosmetic brands welcome an expected vote on the European Commission’s proposal on the restriction of intentionally added microplastics, and are calling for them to be banned completely in beauty products

The continuous use of microplastics, including liquid plastics, causes negative and irreversible damage to our ecosystems and may pose a risk to human health. Recent studies found that 9 out of 10 care products still include microplastics. In Europe alone, 7kg of plastics from cosmetics are flushed into the environment every minute. Microplastics have been found in the human blood, lungs and even the placenta.

Nataliya Yarmolenko, Chief Commercial Officer at Weleda says: “Together with fellow microplastics-free brands we urge the European Commission to implement decisive, consistent, and rapid introduction of microplastic-free legislation as a matter of urgency. We feel there is no justification for the exceptionally long 12-year transition period when certified natural cosmetics brands such as Weleda show that working without using microplastics at all has always been possible. We know that consumers share our passion for genuine sustainability, with 90% of shoppers believing ethics-related considerations are important when buying beauty products. The Beauty industry and others needs to prioritize alternatives to microplastics, so that we can move forward as an innovative, collective, planet friendly beauty industry.”

Madhuri Prabhakar, Microplastics Campaigner at Plastic Soup Foundation: “We all deserve to live in an environment free of microplastics, whether on our beaches, in the air we breathe or in our products – especially when microplastics are not necessary. Brands like Naïf, Weleda, Neals Yard, Laboratoire Léa Nature and Beauty Kitchen, who have signed this letter, are sending a clear message to EU Member States: alternatives to microplastics already exist. It is high time the rest of the cosmetics industry embrace those alternatives. There is no reason to delay the EU restriction any further or allow for excessively long transition periods.”

Lucie Padovani, Marine Litter Lobbying Officer at Surfrider Europe said

“As NGOs, it is inspiring to see that renowned brands are demonstrating that not only being microplastic free has been feasible for years, but that it is also a sustainable option – for the environment, for consumers, and for their own viability. We call on European decision-makers to hear their voice and to adopt an ambitious restriction commensurate to the urgency of the plastics crisis”

For more information contact: 

Niamh Cullen, Rethink Plastic alliance communications coordinator +32 497 83 23 24 

Email: [email protected] 

Rethink Plastic alliance applauds historical European Parliament vote passing a full ban on plastic EU waste exports and full implementation of the Basel Convention

Today, the European Parliament voted on the report tabled by MEP Weiss on the Regulation for the shipment of waste. The Rethink Plastic alliance and the Break Free From Plastic movement applaud  the outcome.

“Great joy, the European Parliament’s decision today supporting a phased-in extra-EU/EFTA plastic waste export ban is welcomed. Many of us across the world have worked tirelessly to highlight the unparalleled body of evidence and real-world experiences that demonstrate that the plastic waste trade is harmful and exploitative. Another important step to ending waste colonialism.” – Lauren Weir, Senior Ocean Campaigner at the Environmental Investigation Agency   

“The European Parliament has shown today that it takes protecting member states from illicit waste shipment seriously. We are happy to see this strong stance on intra EU shipments of plastic waste that seeks to finally make the EU compliant with international rules set by the Basel Convention. Now the member states have to honour this ambition.” – Theresa Morsen, Waste Policy Officer at Zero Waste Europe 

“European waste export has not gone without great costs to the environment and human health. Today, the EU Parliament has paved the way for a more responsible, more transparent and better enforced waste export policy. The groundwork is now laid for EU countries to restrict a kick-the-can-down-the-road approach in the global waste management system, prioritise waste prevention and seize the opportunity for EU to preserve precious secondary raw materials.”

Stephane Arditi – Director for Climate, Circular Economy and Industry at the European Environmental Bureau

For more information about waste trade and the revision of the Waste Shipment Regulation: : 

Rethink Plastic alliance Press Release 16 January 2023: NGOs advocate for full ban on plastic waste exports from the EU as new report finds receiving countries’ recycling capacities overburdened



Niamh Cullen, Communications Coordinator at the Rethink Plastic alliance [email protected] +32 497 83 23 24 

Lauren Weir, Senior Ocean Campaigner at the Environmental Investigation Agency

[email protected]

Theresa Mörsen, Waste Policy Officer at Zero Waste Europe [email protected] 

For further information: 

NO TIME TO WASTE: NGOs advocate for full ban on plastic waste exports from the EU as new report finds receiving countries’ recycling capacities overburdened

Brussels – 16 January 2023

NGOs are calling for the European Parliament to vote for a full ban on extra-EU/ European
Free Trade Association (EFTA) plastic waste exports and the full transposition of the Basel Convention plastic waste amendments within the EU.

In addition to the environmental and human health harm brought about by the plastic waste
trade and the presence of illegal waste shipments facilitated by legal channels, recycling capacity displacement is another important facet factor highlighting why both such measures are necessary within the latest revision of the Waste Shipment Regulation.

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Rethink Plastic alliance (RPa) new
report “Plastic Waste Power Play: The offshoring and recycling displacement
involved in trying to recycle EU plastic waste
” shows that EU plastic waste exports are
taking up limited plastic waste recycling capacity in recipient countries.

The vast majority of plastic has never been recycled, and the exporting of plastic waste from
high-income, high plastic consuming countries also helps perpetuate the linear status quo,
rather than prioritising the reduction of plastic consumption.

The European Parliament is set to vote on the Waste Shipment Regulation this week. The
Rethink Plastic Alliance and Break Free From Plastic movement therefore recommend that
the European Parliament Plenary supports the outcomes of the ENVI Committee vote,
including voting in favour of a full ban on plastic waste exports outside of the EU and EFTA,
in addition to a full implementation of the Basel Convention within the EU.

Major exporters of EU plastic waste such as Germany, the Netherlands, France, and
Belgium are not only prolific consumers of plastic, but also take advantage of the possibility
to export plastic waste in order to try and achieve their recycling targets.
However, the report highlights how this results in the recycling capacity of recipient
countries being inundated overwhelmed and the possibility of recycling their own
domestically- generated plastic waste is thus jeopardised,- resulting in recycling capacity

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, such as
Turkey, non-OECD countries, such as Malaysia, and certain EU Member States are
recipients of EU plastic waste and not only bear the brunt of significant environmental and
human health harm resulting from these shipments.

For example, in 2021, 35 per cent of the 1,135 million kilos of EU plastic waste exported went to Turkey alone. Imported plastic waste made up 78.7 per cent of Turkey’s recycling output volume, with 58 per cent of those imports coming from the EU. Simply put, without having to recycle the plastic waste of high-income countries, these countries would also have greater capacity to recycle domestically generated plastic waste.

“These findings seek to demonstrate yet another harmful outcome from this plastic waste
trade. When EU plastic waste is actually recycled within recipient countries, they displace
recycling capacity for domestically generated plastic waste and they facilitate the
continuation of high-levels of EU plastic consumption,”
said Lauren Weir, Senior Ocean
Campaigner at the Environmental Investigation Agency.

The report also highlights that the exploitative power dynamics occurring globally within the
plastic waste trade occur internally within the Union as well and this is why adequate intra-
EU safeguarding policies – including the full transposition of the Basel Convention within the
Union – are crucial. RPa is very concerned by attempts to remove these vital measures,
which must be retained to ensure that the Basel Convention is correctly and legally applied
within the EU.


For more information contact:
Niamh Cullen, Communications Coordinator at the Rethink Plastic alliance
[email protected] +32 497 83 23 24

Lauren Weir, Senior Ocean Campaigner at the Environmental Investigation Agency
[email protected] +44 20 7354 7984

Theresa Mörsen, Waste Policy Officer at Zero Waste Europe
[email protected]