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EPR as an instrument to tackle microplastics pollution? (1)

Hosted by MEP Mr. Franc Bogovič

Considering its multiple functions that help tackle a number of the challenges facing our society, plastic is an important and omnipresent material in our economy and daily lives. Global production of plastics has increased twentyfold since the 1960s, reaching 322 million tonnes in 2015, and it is expected to double again over the next 20 years. Therefore, there is an urgent need to tackle the environmental problems that today cast a long shadow over the production, use, consumption and end-of-life management of plastics.

Very large quantities of plastic waste leak into the environment from various sources. Microplastics, defined as fragments of plastic below 5mm in size, is a source of plastic leakage posing additional potential threats both to the environment and human health. Aside of accumulation of microplastics in the sea, recent studies also found microplastics in the air, bottled water, drinking water and food, with yet unknown impacts on human health. It has been estimated[1] that more than 700 000 tonnes of microplastics are released into the environment through multiple pathways each year in the EU. While a large amount of microplastics result from the fragmentation of larger pieces of plastic waste, significant quantities also enter the environment directly, making it more challenging to track and prevent them. The EU is taking measures to minimize the release of intentionally added microplastics through a REACH restriction.

However most of the particles found in the environment come from unintentional releases, such as from tyres, synthetic clothing, plastic pallets, artificial turfs and paints. A part of these particles may find their way to urban waste water treatment plants. Although current treatment technologies remove most of them, microplastics have a negative impact on circular economy options of waste water operators and jeopardize the affordability of water services. Due to the multiple pathways to the environment, legislative action to mitigate the release of microplastics to the environment must focus on control at source measures in line with the EU Treaty. If these measures are not sufficient, and measures need to be implemented at other life cycle stages, EPR schemes should be introduced, where relevant, to cover the costs of remedial actions.

To discuss these issues and more, the EPR Club, in collaboration with the European Parliament Intergroup on ‘Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development’, is organising a two-part international conference entitled “EPR as an instrument to tackle microplastic pollution?”.  The first part took place on 27 January and was aimed towards problem setting – understanding of microplastics and potential measures to address it. The second webinar will take place on 24 February and will be focused on EPR as policy instrument.

The event, initiated by the EPR Club members ACR+, DSD, and SUEZ, together with EurEau, welcomed panelists from different sectors to share their positions, experiences and questions. Gathering representatives of the EC, the EP, R&D sector, consultancies, IOs and NGOs, producers and more, the event provide an opportunity for interactive discussion on the rising problem of microplastics.

The event was opened and closed by MEP Mr. Franc Bogovič and moderated by Francoise Bonnet (ACR+).

Keynote remarks: plastic emissions – a challenge for developed countries?Jürgen  Bertling, Business Development Environment, Deputy Head of Department Sustainability and Participation |Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental Safety, and Energy Technology Umsicht

Microplastics generation: how to tackle tyre particles in the environment Fazilet Cinaralp, Secretary General | European Tyre & Rubber Manufacturers Association

Microplastics capture: microplastic sampling in wastewater and their capture at wastewater treatment plant levelAnders Finnson, Senior Environmental Advisor | Svenskt Vatten, representing EurEau

[1]“Investigating options for reducing releases in the aquatic environment of microplastics emitted by (but not intentionally added in) products”, Report for DG Environment of the European Commission, EUMONIA & ICF (2018)




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