EU Commission to drop chemicals law reform as a gift to polluters

The 2023 work programme, finalised in a meeting of heads of cabinets last Friday evening and set to be adopted in the College of Commissioners tomorrow, is set to delay by a year the start of REACH reforms from the last quarter of 2022 to the last quarter of 2023. But this delay is far more significant than ‘just one year’: with European Parliament elections set for May 2024, the delay is effectively “game over” for REACH reform in this legislature and under this Commission, said the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), which has seen the leaked programme. No complex reform has ever been completed in such a short period of time. Therefore, Ursula von der Leyen Commission is effectively killing the reform in response to German chemical industry pressure, EEB said.

The Commission had announced it would strengthen and speed up what are painfully slow chemical controls, saying that its most important law, REACH, is “too slow to sufficiently protect consumers and professional users against risks from the most hazardous substances”. As the EEB has shown, it often takes EU and national officials over a decade to identify hazardous chemicals and then another decade to restrict their use. Chemical pollution is “a threat to human health” and “one of the key drivers putting the Earth at risk”, the Commission acknowledged. 

The cabinet heads also completely changed the purpose of the reform goals: strengthened health and environmental protections, faster decision-making and improved legal compliance and support for industry transition towards safer and sustainable chemicals. They deleted them and replaced them entirely with industry-friendly goals of “securing European competitive advantages” and “reducing burden,” the leaked document shows. The change would legally overturn their earlier announcement.

MEP Maria Arena, member of the European Parliament Intergroup on Cancer, said:

“The European Commission’s proposal to push back the much-needed REACH revision to the end of 2023 is unacceptable. The Commission is denying this European Parliament the possibility to have a balanced and democratic debate on this reform. In truth, the Commission is putting the final nail in the REACH reform’s coffin under their mandate. Even more worrisome is the deletion of the strengthening of the protection of health and the environment as the overarching goal of the reform only to be replaced by talks of competitiveness and reduction of administrative burden. It is clear that the chemical lobbies have won and that the profits of the chemical industry are more important for the Commission than the protection of European citizens from hazardous chemicals. If the Commission goes forward with delaying the REACH reform, the European Green Deal will be remembered as the European Toxic Deal!”

Tatiana Santos, EEB head of chemicals policy said:

“This is a screeching u-turn away from excellent plans for greater environmental and health protections and towards the interests of industrial polluters. It is a shocking betrayal of the Green Deal. They are doing this in the name of helping firms through the energy crisis, but that is just a smokescreen. The sector made excellent profits in the last decade and has generous reserves, while on the other hand, the reforms will take many years to come into force with no short-term impacts on them. If approved tomorrow, that is game over for REACH reform in this legislature and a major blow to the EU Green Deal. We seem set for many more years of rising chemical pollution and the diseases that go with it. We hope the Commission will change its mind and decide not to undermine its own legacy in building a better, brighter future for people and the environment which von der Leyen really placed at the top of her political agenda with the EGD.”

Patrick ten Brink, EEB’s Secretary General said:

“Civil society welcomed the promise of the European Green Deal and have been engaging to make it the transformative agenda we need, but if the promised REACH revision and legal requirements for access and availability of safety data are pushed back and the REACH revisions fundamentally weakened, as the leak suggests, it undermines our and citizen’s confidence that the EGD will provide the answers youth and future generations need. This risks undermining trust in this Commission and the European Project.”

Consumers are widely exposed to chemicals used in a wide range of products, from toys and childcare products to food containers, cosmetics, furniture and textiles, the Commission acknowledges. Scientists have been warning for some time that toxic pollution has crossed the ‘planetary boundary, threatening the entire Earth operating system, along with humanity’. They have also found ‘Forever chemicals’ in all umbilical cords in nearly 30,000 samples analysed as well as microplastics in human breast milk. Polling from late 2019 found that almost all Europeans are worried about the impact of chemicals in everyday products on the environment, a high level of public concern that echoes similar polls throughout the 2010s.

In early October, ministers from Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Luxembourg and Norway called for a timely revision of REACH from the Commission. MEPs have made similar calls.



EEB Head of Chemicals Policy Tatiana Santos (ES / EN / FR) [email protected] +32 488 918 597 / +32 2 289 1094

EEB Communications Officer for Chemicals Andreea Anca (EN, RO, HU) +32 493 732 105
EEB communications consultant Jack Hunter (EN) [email protected] +33 751 051 805

Parliamentary Assistant to Maria Arena, Basile Ghesquiere (EN, FR) [email protected] +33688632346

Rethink Plastic alliance “incredibly disappointed” with European Parliament vote on EU Taxonomy

The Rethink Plastic alliance is incredibly disappointed with today’s vote results on the EU Taxonomy in the European Parliament. Labeling investments in gas as green and sustainable seriously threatens a realistic achievement of the EU’s climate goals, encourages dependency on fossil fuels and incentivises the continued build out of the petrochemical industry. Without significant and meaningful efforts to curb the use of fossil fuels, we face a future where investments in plastic production, and therefore plastic pollution, will increase.   

Here are just some of the statements from our Rethink Plastic alliance members, part of the Break Free From Plastic movement, so far: 

Client Earth – “Branding fossil gas as transitional and green in the Taxonomy is unlawful as it clashes with the EU’s key climate legislation, including the European Climate Law and the Taxonomy regulation itself. ClientEarth, alongside other organisations, will now be looking at options to challenge the inclusion of fossil gas in the Taxonomy in court – greenwashing cannot win.” 

Read ClientEarth’s full statement here

European Environmental Bureau – “Billions now risk being diverted into polluting energy sources, at the expense of energy efficiency and renewables. This decision is a serious blow to the transparency & governance of the whole process, putting at risk the further development of the EU green finance framework.”
Read EEB’s full statement here

Environmental Coalition on Standards – ” The European Parliament has just rubber-stamped the European Commission’s plans to label fossil gas & nuclear power as ‘green investments’. This is state-sponsored greenwashing, from those who aspire to be climate leaders.”
Read ECOS’ full statement here.

Bellona Europa – “Every euro spent on unabated fossil gas under the guise of sustainability could have been spent on renewables. The European Commission should be taken to court and we will support every effort to do so.”
Read Bellona’s full statement here.

Greenpeace – “The EU Commission’s shameful backroom dealing on behalf of the fossil fuel and nuclear industries won’t help them. We’re inspired by the climate activists here in Strasbourg this week and are confident that the courts will strike down this politically motivated greenwashing as clearly in breach of EU law.”

Read Greenpeace’s full statement here

EU one step closer to making sustainable products the norm

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Brussels, 30 March 2022

The Rethink Plastic alliance welcomes the European Commission’s proposal on the Sustainable Products Initiative (SPI), an important step forward in ensuring all products placed on the EU market are designed for sustainability, including durability and non-toxicity. Yet, as often, the devil will be in the details, and the success of the SPI will only be demonstrated if the EU’s material footprint is reduced, circular business models are mainstreamed, and presence of chemicals in products is minimised, warns the alliance.

The initiative includes a new Regulation on Ecodesign which introduces minimum requirements for products to be traded on the European market. It therefore has the potential to ensure the most wasteful, toxic products are pushed off the market. The proposed Regulation also foresees the creation of an EU Digital Product Passport to provide comprehensive information on product composition along the value chain. This can offer sustainability relevant information on products and their components such as reusability and recyclability, availability of repair services or parts, and presence of harmful chemicals. 

Addressing sustainability as early as possible at the design stage is critical to reducing resource use, pollution and waste and minimising products’ impact on health and the environment throughout their lifecycle

Ioana Popescu, Senior Programme Manager at ECOS, for the Rethink Plastic alliance: “Today, the European Commission is taking a leap towards a true circular economy, finally addressing negative environmental impacts embedded in product design. This initiative has real potential to make all products placed on the EU market repairable, durable, reusable, energy-efficient and free of hazardous chemicals. However, the success of the initiative will depend on how ambitious future product requirements are, as well as on how swiftly they are adopted.”

Elise Vitali, Chemicals Policy Officer at the European Environmental Bureau commented “The SPI is a good step forward for toxic-free products as it recognises that chemical safety is inherent to sustainability. Yet, the new Ecodesign Regulation will need to show teeth to effectively regulate harmful substances on the basis of sustainability, and synergies still need to be created with the EU chemical legislation, regulating chemicals based on safety.”

“The Digital Product Passport will be key to improve the traceability of substances of concern in products,” she added. “The next step should be to have transparency on all chemicals in products by 2030, as called for by NGOs.”

The Commission’s proposal will be discussed and amended by the European Parliament and EU countries in the coming months. The alliance recommends to further increase the ambition of the text and remove potential loopholes from the text, including the possibility for legally binding (delegated) acts to be replaced with industry self-regulation.


Niamh Cullen, Communications Officer, Rethink Plastic alliance, [email protected], +32 497832324

Sabela Gonzalez Garcia, Campaigns and Communications Manager, ECOS, [email protected]

Andreea Anca, Communications Officer, EEB, [email protected]

History in the making: Advances on a global plastics treaty and a toxic-free future


NAIROBI, KENYA On 2 March, the UN Environmental Assembly (UNEA) adopted a resolution “End plastic pollution: Towards an international legally binding instrument ​”, which foresees that a Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee will be convened to “develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution”. 

“Following Rwanda and Norway, EU member states have been some of the first to throw their weight behind a legally binding agreement on plastics. Despite having world-leading policy initiatives such as the Strategy for Plastics in the Circular Economy, the EU has made it clear that domestic policies on plastic pollution won’t matter if there isn’t global coordination. Over the past days many delegations have participated online with limited access to informal discussions, and the EU’s role throughout these negotiations has been paramount in driving the ambition of the mandate. We hope to see a similar level and form of engagement throughout the negotiations that will decide the design elements of the treaty itself,” said Tom Gammage, Ocean campaigner at the Environmental Investigation Agency, on behalf of the Rethink Plastic alliance.

Giulia Carlini, Senior attorney with the Center for International Environmental Law, said on behalf of the Rethink Plastic alliance: “The resolution adopted this week is the result of a decade of work, yet it is also just the beginning of the negotiation process to secure an ambitious legally binding treaty to address the plastic crisis at a global scale. ​​This is a turning point in the fight against plastic pollution, but only if countries live up to the challenge. We look at the EU and we hope policymakers will keep their promises and act in line with the leadership role the EU has played during the negotiations to move towards ending plastic pollution at source, focusing on reducing production and redesigning products for non-toxicity, reusability and durability”. 

“The EU should also weigh in to ensure that any future negotiation process is inclusive and right-based and that civil society organisations are given the space and means to contribute meaningfully “ she added. 

Similarly, the 5th session of the UN Environmental Assembly (UNEA) also adopted a resolution on “Sound Management of Chemicals and Waste” which includes a request to update the state of the science report on Endocrine Disruptors Chemicals (EDCs) by 2024. EDCs disrupt the hormone system in humans and animals. They have very serious effects even at low doses, ranging from infertility to cancer, and can disrupt human brain development.

“World leaders are finally supporting what civil society has been saying for years. It’s critical to have more data on the impacts of EDC on human health and the environment. Yet, this shouldn’t delay the much-needed transition towards a toxic-free world. We hope the European Commission will step up and deliver on its commitments on EDCs by developing a legally binding hazard identification that applies across legislation and includes provisions that will ban EDCs from products and packaging. The upcoming REACH revision is a golden ticket to speed up action to minimize our exposure to Endocrine Disruptors, in line with the EU Chemicals Strategy.” said Giulia Carlini, Senior attorney with the Center for International Environmental Law, on behalf of the Rethink Plastic alliance.

Media contacts: 

Rossella Recupero, Communications Associate, Center for International Environmental Law, [email protected], +39 340 47 39 827 

Bethany Spendlove Keeley, Europe Communications Officer, Break Free From Plastic, [email protected], +49 176 5958 794

World’s top polluters holding pen on new EU standards for recycled plastics?

The Circular Plastic Alliance, a group of 300 organisations including some of the worst plastic polluters, has been given unprecedented treatment in the development of new standards for ‘plastics recycling and recycled plastics’.

– Standard-setting rules in Europe establish that all types of interested parties must be represented in the process, including the voices of environmentalists, consumers, workers, and SMEs.
– In a letter sent today, ECOS, Zero Waste Europe and the Rethink Plastic alliance ask the European Commission to stop the process and go back to the drawing board. 

ECOS, Zero Waste Europe and the Rethink Plastic alliance campaigners have sent a letter [1] to Commissioners Thierry Breton and Virginijus Sinkevicius asking them to stop the development of a Standardisation Request on ‘plastics recycling and recycled plastics’. This is the first stage for new standards on the matter. Campaigners question the opaque role of the industrial Circular Plastics Alliance (CPA) in the preparation phase of the draft Standardisation Request. This is one of the first steps in the development of any new Commission harmonised standards, in which the Commission mandates European Standardisation Organisations CEN and CENELEC, in charge of doing the work. The CPA has been intensively consulted by the European Commission as EU officials consider this Alliance ‘a relevant stakeholder initiative’ in the drafting and preparation of the draft Standardisation Request, NGOs state. Civil society organisations and European Standardisation Organisations were consulted only at a later stage.The document circulated by the Commission for consultation was titled ‘SR CPA Decision’. This is a telling example of the preferential treatment industry is being given in the process, NGOs say. The Standards Vademecum [2], which sets the rules and processes for standards-making in Europe, states clearly that consultations must be held in parallel with all relevant parties, including civil society organisations. Giving preference to industry goes against the rules.The Circular Plastics Alliance is composed of 300 organisations, including some of the world’s top plastic polluters [3] [4], such as The Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo, Unilever, Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, Mondelēz International, Danone, and Mars, Inc. Many of the CPA organisations are not even listed in the European Transparency Register.The new standards on ‘plastics recycling and recycled plastics’ will set technical rules and criteria on aspects such as:plastic packaging recyclability,design-for-recycling guidelines for various products (from plastic packaging to construction and automotive products, as well as electronic and electrical equipment),quality requirements for application of plastic recyclates [5] in products.

The full letter can be read here.

Fanny Rateau, Programme Manager, ECOS – Environmental Coalition on Standards: ‘The European Commission has outsourced to companies essential decisions on how standards intervene in curbing plastic pollution – decisions that will tip the scales as to whether or not EU laws on plastics are effective.The Commission seems to have ‘forgotten’ that they ought to be the author of standardisation requests. A consultation process follows to ensure that all stakeholders, including civil society, get a say, on an equal footing. The Commission must now correct this and go back to the drawing board’.
Janek Vähk, Climate, Energy and Air Pollution Programme Coordinator, Zero Waste Europe: ‘The lack of proper consultation from a broad spectrum of stakeholders means that the environmental ambition of the draft proposal is exceptionally low. This is a missed opportunity to support the European Green Deal and bring circular thinking to the plastics sector’. 
Notes to editors: 
[1] ECOS, ZWE and RPa letter to European Commission: Request to cease development of Standardisation Request on ‘plastics recycling and recycled plastics’  –
[2] Vademecum on European standardisation –
[3] Break Free From Plastic – Branded: Brand Audit Report 2021
[4] Circular Plastics Alliance, list of members –[5] The term recyclate is used to describe a raw material transported to a waste recycling facility or a material recovering plant for processing into a newly formed material or product  (source:
Contact points at ECOS: Fanny Rateau, Programme Manager at ECOS – [email protected]
Ivo Cabral, Press Manager at ECOS  [email protected] 

New EU rules for methane must cover petrochemicals and supply chain if it is to honour climate commitments, environmental NGOs urge

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Brussels, 08 December, 2021

In a bid to become a global leader on reducing methane emissions, the European Commission plans to table its proposal for a Methane Regulation this 14 December – but it’s expected that it will not include full coverage of supply chains, nor inclusion of petrochemicals, as the European Parliament had asked for. With 75-90% of all EU methane emissions occurring from imported fossil fuels, these leading emitters and their supply chain need to be included if the regulation is to be robust, environmental NGOs urge.

Plastics, which are produced from petrochemicals such as crude oil and gas, remain one of the most greenhouse gas-intensive industrial processes, making them key drivers of climate change and pollution.

The Rethink Plastic alliance and Break Free From Plastic movement highlight that continued reliance on fossil fuels to produce plastic in Europe, including fracked gas produced in the United States, threatens to undermine emissions reductions objectives while exacerbating plastic pollution. The primary known users of such US fracked gas in Europe are global chemicals companies Borealis and INEOS, who seek to build the first new plastics plant in Europe in 20 years. 

“A new facility that relies on fracked gas to produce the key building block of plastics is a direct contribution to global warming and inconsistent with Europe’s attempts to tackle the plastic pollution crisis,” said Delphine Lévi Alvarès, European Coordinator for the Break Free From Plastic movement and the Rethink Plastic alliance. “We remind the European Commission that living up to their climate and zero pollution commitments means it is critical that the Methane Regulation and relevant policy developments include coverage of the full supply chain emissions and petrochemicals.”

“In the midst of a mounting climate emergency, the transatlantic trade in petrochemicals is not the kind of economic cooperation the world needs. It not only harms people and the environment on both sides of the Atlantic but also threatens to undermine emissions reductions objectives and exacerbate plastic pollution,” added Steven Feit, Senior Attorney at the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL). 

“European policymakers shouldn’t be allowed to keep harming communities and the environment to feed Europe’s plastic addiction. Climate leadership and responsibility also means to stop hiding behind the anonymity of imported feedstocks as a source to fuel its plastic industry while banning fracking within their own borders,” he added.

“The failure to extend the measures in the upcoming EU Methane Regulation to imports and petrochemicals means the EU Commission is walking away from its collective commitment in the Global Methane Pledge before the ink is even dry, signalling to the rest of the world that it is okay to pledge and pontificate on the podium and then dally and dither at home. We call on Executive Vice-President Timmermans and Commissioner Simson to recognise the EU’s role as a major driver of global methane emissions, and to propose meaningful measures on imports and petrochemicals ” said Tim Grabiel, Senior Attorney at the Environmental Investigation Agency.



For more info see CIEL report: The Transatlantic Petrochemical Trade is Undermining Europe’s Climate & Plastics Policies, 3 December 2021.

Press contact:

Niamh Cullen, Rethink Plastic alliance – [email protected] 

Bethany Spendlove Keeley – [email protected]

Delay in proposed microplastics restriction leading to irreversible pollution

One additional year without a restriction on microplastics could see levels of pollution equivalent to 1.6 billion plastic bottles released into the environment.

An EU proposal to restrict intentionally added microplastics used in products has been delayed yet again – and the wait could lead to increasingly uncontrollable rates of plastic pollution, data from ClientEarth and the EEB (European Environmental Bureau) has shown. The NGOs insist that the proposal must no longer be delayed.

Microplastics are plastics less than 5mm in size which are often added to products like cosmetics, detergents, paints, pesticides and sports fields. They are nearly impossible to remove once released into the environment and can harm biodiversity due to their physical properties. They may also carry multiple contaminants and hazardous chemicals. Microplastics seep into the air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink. 

The EU’s intention to restrict intentionally-added microplastics dates back to 2017, when the European Commission requested the European Chemicals Agency to prepare a restriction proposal – but it has so far failed to come into fruition. The ambition was reaffirmed this year including in the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability. Following the response of Commissioner Breton to an EU parliamentary question in August, there were expectations that a restriction would be proposed by the Commission before the end of 2021, under usual procedure timings. The REACH Regulation creates the obligation for the Commission to submit a draft proposal three months after ECHA’s opinion – which in this case was published last February. ClientEarth showed in a previous report that these delays happen far too often.

However, the European Commission has confirmed that the proposal will be postponed until next year. One additional year of delay could see emissions of around 42,630 tonnes’ worth of microplastics emitted into the environment, equivalent to 1.6 billion plastic bottles. Since 2017, when the Commission first signalled its intention to restrict intentionally-added microplastics, 169,441 tonnes worth of microplastics – or 6.4 billion plastic bottles’ worth – are estimated to have already been released in the environment.

“The EU is breaking the rules by delaying the presentation of a proposal, which is astounding given the ever-increasing volume of microplastics flooding into the environment and the existence of safer alternatives,” said Hélène Duguy, chemicals lawyer at ClientEarth. “EU institutions have kept us in the dark as to why these delays are happening while companies are given an extended permit to pollute. The Commission keeps on mentioning the restriction in speeches, but has delivered nothing yet. Meanwhile, microplastics are wreaking havoc on our environment.”  

Among the controversial elements of this file, the continual use of granules made of end-of-life tyres in sports pitches – which are the biggest source of microplastic pollution by far – has been decried by NGOs. Tyres release microplastics that contain toxic chemicals and may cause widespread environmental pollution. The tyre industry is asking regulators to be lenient and is opposing a complete ban. NGOs argue that this will lead to continued microplastics emissions into the environment.

“Even if the restriction is adopted by 2022, the use of microplastics on sport pitches will emit an estimated 128,000 tonnes of microplastics in the environment by 2030; in the best case scenario, they will be banned in 6 years”. added Elise Vitali, Chemicals Policy Officer at the European Environmental Bureau.“Only an ambitious restriction, without unjustified exemptions and delays, could ever be considered in line with the EU Green Deal’s ambition. Political decisions will have to be taken by the Commission and Member States, including to restrict non critical uses. The plastic crisis is well established and authorities need to act accordingly. Microplastics have become a macro problem.”

In parallel, the European Commission has recently set out its ambition to tackle not just intentionally-added microplastics but also unintentional ones – known by the alias of secondary microplastics.

Duguy added: “How can we trust the Commission’s ambition to deal with secondary microplastics – a much larger source of pollution – when it fails to act on the lower hanging fruit?”


Notes to editors

  • ClientEarth and the EEB’s detailed analysis on microplastics emissions can be found here
  • Microplastics emissions estimates are an update from our most recently published figures. ClientEarth and EEB calculated the amount of microplastics released into the environment based on ECHA’s estimations (see Annex XV dossier). The yearly estimates were derived by category and extrapolated to the proposed transition periods. 
  • It is estimated that 92% of the 5.25 trillion of plastic particles present globally are microplastics. Intentional microplastics also contribute to this problem. No part of the world is unaffected: research has found for example, that the Arctic is “pervasively” polluted by microplastic fibres that most likely come from the washing of synthetic clothes by people in Europe and North America.
  • The numbers of plastic bottles per year are calculated according to microplastics emissions estimates translated into weight of an average 500ml PET plastic bottle (see here)

European Commission acknowledges the EU’s plastic waste trade crisis with proposal, but falls short of bringing appropriate response

The European Commission’s proposal strengthens current rules on EU plastic waste exports, but environmental NGOs note significant loopholes and need for clarification.

Today the European Commission tabled its long anticipated proposal of the EU Waste Shipment Regulation, with an aim “to ensure that the EU does not export its waste challenges to third countries”. However despite some interesting provisions, current suggestions fail to adequately address the scale and impact of waste trade. 

The proposal follows a call for a plastic waste export ban from 36 MEPs and 89 organisations signatory to the BFFP EU Plastic Waste Trade Manifesto, and Commissioner Sinkevicius’ citing the EU’s desire to enact ambitious rules on waste during a Rethink Plastic alliance waste trade event held in September.

Long criticised for its practice regarding waste shipments, notably plastic, the EU has been urged many times to take ambitious action to end this crisis causing significant health, environmental and social harm for receiving countries.

The current proposal is a step above current measures in place. However, the safest, most effective and circular solution, expert NGOs stress, is to mirror the growing movement of receiving countries in prohibiting plastic waste trade, and for the EU to take responsibility for the high levels of waste it generates by banning all extra-EU plastic waste exports. 

The choice to only currently restrict certain plastic exports to non-OECD as well as the lack of clarity over certain measures proposed, including the potential for exemptions on plastic waste exports, independent audit requirements and the current resistance of the EU in fully transposing the Basel Convention only further weakens the proposed rules.

“The Basel Convention calls for all countries to be self-sufficient in waste management,” said Jim Puckett, Executive Director of the Basel Action Network. “Certainly, the EU, which is very well resourced compared to the rest of the world, should be among the first group of nations to achieve full waste self-sufficiency and stop playing the global waste trade shell game. They must adopt a no-exceptions ban on waste trade period.” 

NGOs also stress the significant potential for illegal plastic waste trade practices to continue under current proposed measures, which do not fully address the current legislative or implementation weaknesses in that regard. 

“This proposal gets some things very right and some things very wrong,” said Tim Grabiel, Senior Lawyer at the Environmental Investigation Agency. “While we commend the Commission for continuing to take action to limit plastic waste exports to non-OECD countries and enhance independent monitoring, the lack of consent procedures on plastic waste movements within the EU will create new dumping grounds and exacerbate illegal trade.”

“The Commission’s proposal is a step in the right direction and, if strengthened, could lead to the most ambitious legislative piece on plastic waste trade in the world.” added Pierre Condamine, Waste Trade Policy Officer at Zero Waste Europe. “It is now in the hands of the European Parliament and EU countries to increase the ambition of the proposal and make it fit for the challenge it seeks to address.”

For further information, contact: 

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


  1. A recent report from the Environmental Investigation Agency, published global export data since records began demonstrating how shipping plastic waste around the globe enables the ever-expanding production of virgin (new) plastics and its unchecked consumption, exacerbating rates of plastic waste mismanagement in the process.
  2. Additionally, it shared how illegal trade in plastic waste has surged since 2018 as criminal groups have sought to exploit the massive market disruption prompted by China’s decision to ban plastic waste imports. Countries in South-East Asia, South Asia and Eastern Europe have borne the brunt of this growing criminal activity as plastic waste shipments from Europe and North America have been diverted as a result, at times by misdeclaring plastic waste under legal plastic waste trade codes that for the most part are never inspected.
  3. Some of the main loopholes and insufficiencies identified in the proposal are : 
  • Plastic waste will still be allowed to be exported outside of the EU. The current proposed system is insufficient in this regard as it also leaves the possibility of illegal practices undertaken through legal trade routes, the independent audit requirements currently listed require more clarification and as a whole extra-EU exports allow the EU to still consume more plastic than it can effectively treat;
  • The prohibitions currently outlined should also apply to OECD countries in order to avoid countries, like Turkey, to become an even more popular  destination and become overwhelmed with EU plastic waste
  • Regarding intra-EU shipments, we do not see a full implementation of the Basel Convention which still leaves the possibility to export potentially hazardous plastic for incineration with energy recovery; 
  • The proposal does not include the transposition of the Basel Convention plastic waste amendments’ consent procedures or independent audit requirements for intra-EU trade, which would allow for increased transparency and control of the trading system.

NGOs to EU Commission: too much space for ‘cooking the books’ in current proposal for the method to count recycled plastic content

ECOS and Rethink Plastic alliance campaigners send a letter to European Commission and consultancy firm Eunomia asking for limits to ‘artificial’ mass balance accounting method to be used to count recycled plastic content in beverage bottles.

New requirements for minimum recycled content rates in plastic products will enter into force in the coming years as part of the EU Single Use Plastic (SUP) Directive 2019/904.

PET bottles, for example, will have recycled content thresholds. As of 2025, all PET beverage bottles allowed on the EU market will need to have a minimum amount of 25% recycled content. By 2030, the bar will rise to 30%.

However, the devil is in the detail, and that will determine whether such requirements will result in a true breakthrough. Methods to calculate the rate of recycled content will be essential for that. In fact, the European Commission has been looking into ways of calculating, verifying and reporting recycled content from beverage bottles for over 20 years now.

In support of the Commission, the consulting firm Eunomia has been undertaking the technical preparatory work supporting the requirements set in the SUP Directive.

The latest proposal by Eunomia has raised important concerns. At a workshop held on 12 October, consultants suggested that companies would be free to allocate their recycled plastic content inputs to any production outputs from chemical recycling processes, such as bottles. Only fuels are left out of this system.

The ‘mass balance’ approach is an accounting method that would allow companies to claim artificially swollen rates of recycled content to products of their choosing – especially those for which the EU will require minimum levels of recycled content.

On 26 October, ECOS and the Rethink Plastic alliance sent a letter to European Commission’s DG ENV, the Joint Research Centre, and consultancy firm Eunomia, expressing their concerns about the dangers of an unlimited use of the ‘mass balance’ approach.

Campaigners point out that recycled plastic calculation and associated claims should be based on proportional allocations, should discount process efficiency losses and consider only recycled materials that have passed through the hands of consumers (technically called ‘post-consumer plastic waste’).

The full letter can be read here.

Notes to editors:

How does the ‘mass balance’ method work?

The ‘mass balance’ method can be explained through an analogy with a cookie factory. A producer mixes a large volume of regular sugar with a small amount of ‘sustainably produced sugar’ to make a number of different products: cakes, cookies, bread, croissants… In truth, only around 5% of the sugar used in the cookies is ‘sustainable’. However, using this methodology, the producer can then artificially claim all the sugar is in the cookies is of the ‘good’ type – selling them as containing ‘100% sustainable sugar’!

A second major problem comes from the inclusion of pre-consumer plastic waste in the accounting method for recycled content. This has a perverse effect as it gives incentives to wasteful and inefficient production processes, since waste plastics can then be considered as recycled even if they never reached consumers. Instead, the EU methodology should target recyclates from post-consumer plastic waste only, in line with the EU circular economy policies.

Setting this methodology right today is all the more important since the European Commission will use it as a base for setting new European recycled content requirements in other sectors, such as packaging, construction products, vehicles and batteries.

For more information, please access our recent report for further details and recommendations: ‘Determining recycled content with the ‘mass balance approach’”.

A set of infographics summarising our recommendations for the accounting of recycled plastic content can be seen here.

Fanny Rateau, Programme Manager at ECOS – Environmental Coalition on Standards

‘The EU stood up for the environment when introducing requirements for minimum plastic content in the Single Use Plastics Directive. It would be a pity if it resulted in a greenwashing exercise, with companies being allowed to cook their books thanks to a clear loophole in the small print of an implementing act. Fighting the environmental crisis will require real action – creative accounting will not help’.

Press contacts:

Fanny Rateau, Programme Manager at ECOS – [email protected] [KK1] 

Ivo Cabral, Press & Communications Manager at ECOS – [email protected]