The European Union is prioritizing international sustainability by pledging to make all plastic packaging in Europe recyclable and reusable by 2030.
Residents of Europe produce 25 million tons of plastic yearly, but less than 30 percent is recyclable.
“If we don’t do anything about this, 50 years down the road we will have more plastic than fish in the oceans,” said Frans Timmermans, vice president of the European Commission responsible for sustainable development in a public statement.
The goal to increase sustainability efforts follows China’s decision to refuse imports of foreign plastic materials. Without the ability to export plastic trash, Europe risks a pile up of waste in countries all over the continent.
“China’s intention to stop taking the world’s plastic is a great opportunity for the rest of the world to take responsibility for its use of throw-away products that degrade the environment,” said Co-Vice Chair and Conservation Chair for Sierra Club’s Raleigh chapter Judith Ferster.
This decision pushed Europe to adopt a more environmentally friendly strategy for using plastic products.
One aim of the program is to target and eliminate single-use plastic products such as drinking straws, non-degradable colored bottles, coffee cups, cutlery and takeout packaging.
Another goal is to encourage citizens of the EU to reduce plastic bag usage by 60 percent by the 2030 deadline.
“Changing consumer behavior might be the most difficult and most beneficial aspect of the initiative,” said Jason Millington, part-time lecturer in environmental studies. “Moving away from single-use plastics, such as straws and water bottles, would be key to lowering the mass of plastic waste we have to deal with.”
Supporters hope that education about recycling will help facilitate implementation of this new program.
“(One) of the challenges we face is to explain to consumers that arguably some of the options in terms of the color of bottles you can buy will be more limited than before,” said Timmermans in a public statement. “But I am sure that if people understand that you can’t buy that lively green bottle, it will have a different color, but it can be recycled, people will buy into this.”
According to Fortune magazine, one way to encourage less plastic usage is by ensuring that water is more readily available in public spaces so that demand for plastic water bottles will drop.
However, some within the environmental community emphasize reusing over recycling.
“This is a great point of progress to reduce waste, but recycling has an overall small impact on the sustainability movement,” said Bronwyn Tucker, visiting lecturer for environmental studies. “It would be better for individuals to become more accustomed to reusing.”
The EU’s strategy hopes to reduce plastic use with a ban on certain types such as microplastics in cosmetics and personal care items. The organization is also seeking to ensure that less of this type of waste is dumped in oceans.
“More and more it is becoming a health problem because it is degrading, going to little chips, fish are eating it and it is coming back to our dinner table,” said European Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen to The Guardian.
Concern about plastic’s effect on the globe is shared by specialists in environmental and sustainability fields.
“I think plastics are a valuable asset, but need to only be used where other substitutes are truly not available,” said Tucker.
Concerned members of U.K. Parliament are attempting to eliminate unnecessary plastic use by calling on grocery chains to eliminate plastic product packaging wherever possible. U.K. grocery chain Waitrose has already responded by ceasing use of non-recyclable black plastic in meat packaging.
With the EU’s recycling and reusing plan, the future of Europe will be less disposable.