Agenda item 4(a) – European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy and
Agenda item 4(c) Implementation of the Circular Economy package: options to address the interface between chemical, produce and waste legislation
I warmly welcome this Strategy which captures key challenges facing Member States in managing plastics as a waste but, more importantly, as an undervalued resource in the context of the Circular Economy.
Ireland fully embraces the ambition of the new strategy. To reinforce this, Ireland has moved Waste from our environment division to our natural resources division and we will strive to go well beyond the recommendations for Member States contained therein.
I believe these are issues where we need much greater urgency in order to protect our environment, to benefit consumers and to provide new opportunities for the European economy. We must embrace the ambition in this Strategy and collectively start work immediately, as outlined by my colleague from Germany.
Delivering urgent change will require real political leadership at national and EU level. This may be challenging, but it is vital.
But before we talk about managing waste we must stop waste being generated in the first place. I want to support the call from France to review the packaging standards, which I believe is, in part, creating a problem in the first place.
Turning now to the first two questions posed by the Presidency:
I firmly believe that the best approach to increasing the use of recycled plastics and the capacity of the plastic industry in the EU is to generate a market for plastic recyclate.
It stands to reason that once feedstock is available at a competitive price, industry will respond by increasing recycling capacity.
Improving the quality of collected materials is critical to increased recycling and the implementation of the proposed guidelines on separate collection and sorting of waste will address this issue. Consumers need to be supported in efforts to do the right thing. Education is key. We must bring our people with us. With this in mind, I launched a single national recycling list last year to standardize what is placed in recycling bins. This was a first list of its kind and it was urgently required.
I note the recommendations to Member States in relation to putting in place well-designed Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes. In Ireland we have two such very successful schemes dealing with Packaging and with Farm Plastics.
Green Public Procurement (GPP) has the potential to deliver immediate and numerable results. This is something I am championing in Ireland. However, I would like to see more leadership from the EU in this regard. I believe consideration needs to be given to moving away from the current voluntary basis of GPP policy and to designing a mandatory approach.
In relation to the economic instruments, I have commissioned a study to look at the impact of applying levies to single use plastics, such as coffee cups, in changing public behaviour. We have to keep this material out of landfills. This proved very successful when Ireland pioneered a levy on plastic bags in 2002. It also sends a clear marker to industry to innovate and use eco-design to move away from plastic and non-recyclable materials.
Now to the final question posed by the Presidency.
I believe there is a need for a more harmonised interpretation and implementation of 'end-of-waste' rules across the EU and I therefore welcome the recent revisions to the Waste Framework Directive and the Commission's 'planned actions' set out in the Chemical, Product and Waste Interface. We need a standardized EU approach to define biodegradable and we cannot have 'biodegradable' products generating micro-plastics that undermine Ireland's domestic plan and that of others in the EU to ban micro-plastics in cosmetics and cleaning products. The source should not be our focus, but the potential impact on our environment.
To conclude, and I echo my colleagues from Sweden, time is of the essence. I would like to see specific efforts being made now to take action in the coming months to ensure today's momentum is maintained, not just to address the plastics crisis but throughout the strategy's implementation.