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European Commission Ignites Global Initiative Against Microplastics

Microplastics are quietly harming the environment—and the European Commission (EC) is calling on international authorities and the apparel industry to move to a more circular economy to curb the problem.

On Wednesday, the European Commission urged stakeholders to present voluntary pledges to heighten the uptake of recycled plastics. By 2025, the pledging campaign aims to take 10 million tons of recycled plastics and turn them into new products within the European Union market.

The EC asked stakeholders to submit their circular economy pledges by June 30. Following a review from June 30 to Oct. 31, the European Commission, along with stakeholders, international authorities and industry members, will take collective action against microplastics pollution.

The European Commission’s circular economy plan

The European Commission listed several measures to implement the circular economy solution—improving the economics and quality of plastics recycling, curbing plastic waste and littering, driving investment and innovation toward circular solutions and harnessing global action.

To boost the quality of plastics recycling, the EC will improve the following areas this year—product design, recycled content and separate collection of plastic waste.

Future revisions of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive will take place to ensure that by 2030, all plastic packaging placed on the EU market can be reused and/or recycled in a cost effective manner. From the first quarter to third quarter of 2018, the EC will complement the pledging campaign with a broad assessment on recycled content uptake. The EC will promote other initiatives, including Ecolabel, so consumers may easily find labeled sustainable products within the EU market. Next year, the EC will enforce new regulations on the collection and sorting of microfiber waste and review additional waste management legislation.

Curbing plastic waste and littering is another measure the EC will take to promote a more circular economy. Starting this quarter, it will address sea-based sources of marine litter by adopting a legislative proposal on delivering waste from ships, developing regulations to reduce abandonment of fishing gear at sea and limiting plastic loss from aquaculture. In addition to improving marine littering management, the EC will support member states that enact waste management initiatives over the next few years. Ongoing efforts include reducing single-use plastics and reforming the labeling system for biodegradable plastics.

To further plastic recycling quality and waste management, the EC aims to invest in circular solution innovation. From 2018 onward, it will direct financial support for innovation through the European Fund for Strategic Investment and develop a Strategic Research Innovation Agenda on plastics to guide future environmental funding. By mid-2019, the EC will also explore investment options for new technologies that will reduce the negative impacts of primary plastic manufacturing.

Rounding out the EC’s circular economy agenda is taking global action against microplastics pollution. Starting this year, it will establish a project to minimize marine litter in Asia and the Mediterranean to promote more sustainable production and waste management efforts. While working with the apparel industry and international authorities, the EC will work to promote a more circular plastics economy in non-EU nations through trade and environmental policies. Additionally, the EC will fortify international industry standards on recycled plastics and sorted plastic waste.

[Read more about ocean pollution: UN Lends Weight to Ocean Pollution Problem to Advance the Circular Economy]

Circular economy measures for the apparel industry

The EC complimented its circular economy goals with recommended measures for the apparel industry and international authorities. The circular economy measures mimic its goals for the quality of plastics recycling, curbing plastic waste, driving circular solution innovation and harnessing global action.

To improve plastic recycling quality, the industry and international authorities can improve dialogue across the value chain on material and product design processes, boost the uptake of recycled plastic and publicly procure the collection of plastics waste rather than support incineration or land-filling.

For better plastic waste management, the EC recommended that the industry and international authorities raise awareness of littering and enforce fines for polluting. In addition to promoting alternatives to single-use plastics in product packaging and manufacturing, the industry and international authorities can work with the EU to minimize microplastics release in the environment, step up waste collection in marine populated areas and develop regional guidelines for recycling plastic waste.

While the EC boosts circular economy investment, the industry and international authorities can boost R&D funding in sustainable manufacturing, boost public procurement for plastics recycling and work with companies that are advancing plastic waste recycling and other eco-friendly practices.

Lastly, the industry and international authorities are encouraged to participate in international initiatives against microplastics pollution and play an active role in fostering a cross-border circular plastics economy, including a global guideline for managing plastic waste in the future.

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