According to reports in Packaging Insights and Packaging Europe in January, the EU Commission is considering further bans on plastic packaging and new requirements for manufacturers, while the recycling rate for plastics in Europe achieved only a slight increase of 1.4 percent in 2016-18.

In a recent interview in the Germany newspaper Die Welt, the new EU Commissioner for Environment, Virginijus Sinkevicius, said that the EU Commission is considering the implications of a general ban on plastic packaging.

Ms. Sinkevicius told the newspaper that we definitely want to expand the rules for single-use plastics and are currently investigating in which direction that would be possible. “An important step would be, for example, to ban plastic packaging or to prescribe the use of recycled plastic,” she said.

Microplastics are on our agenda. By the end of the year, we will provide a very detailed list of all those products that contain microplastics or that use microplastics. And then we will make sure that these products no longer release microplastics.”

Microplastics refer to polymeric particles smaller than 5 mm in size in any one dimension, present in waste water, rivers, lakes and oceans. Common sources of microplastics include additives in personal care products, synthetic fibers, resin pellets, medical products, abrasion and exfoliating beads used in furniture and insulation, tire recycling fragments of larger plastic items as they degrade from the effects of ultraviolet rays and other weathering factors. Microplastics can potentially leach toxic chemicals, including endocrine disruption chemicals, such as bisphenol A and phthalates, according to EMSL Analytical, Inc. “Microplastics can be consumed accidentally and is harmful in regards to human health due to the chemicals used to make the plastics." 

In response to Sinkevicius’ comments, Dr. Martin Engelmann, managing director of the German Plastics Packaging Association said: “The Commissioner should ask how his statement will be received by those who are about to decide on investments in recyclable packaging or recycling plants. If politicians exclude plastic packaging from the circular economy, these urgently needed investments will certainly not be made.”

"Some politicians are currently suggesting to consumers and voters that blanket bans can be used to overcome the major challenges in environmental and climate protection,” Engelmann continued. “Unfortunately, they forget to mention the contribution plastic packaging makes, for example, to CO2 savings and food safety."

In Europe Spain leads the pack recycling plastics

Another issue in the EU is the recycling rate for plastics, which reached 32.5 percent in 2018, while France had a recycling rate of 24.2 percent in 2018. France is a poor performer and compared to 2016, it had only increased by two percentage points, with an energy recovery rate that reached 43.3 percent and a 32.5 percent landfilling rate, according to le Journal de l’Environment in January.

The recycling rate for plastics in Europe has seen a slight increase of 1.4 percent in 2016-2018, according to figures published by industry association Plastics Europe. In total, the recycling rate for plastics reached 32.5 percent in 2018 across the EU, a slight increase compared to 2016. And despite the slight EU-wide increase, the overall recycling rate remains far off the energy recovery rate, which stands at 42.6 percent of plastics waste (up 0.9 percent over the period).

On the positive side, eight European countries stand out from the pack, with results above the EU average. In Spain, the recycling rate is 42 percent, while Germany and Sweden each boast a 39 percent rate. The Czech Republic and Denmark reached a 37 percent recycling rate, followed by Estonia with 36 percent, Luxembourg with 35 percent, and the Netherlands with 34 percent.