Figure 4: Toxic exposure from incinerated mixed waste, containing plastic. 2018, Geraadpleegd van ec. europa. eu/environment/circular-economy/pdf.
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The environmental impacts of plastics and micro -plastics use, waste and pollution: EU and national measures Policy Department for Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs Directorate -General for Internal Policies PE 658.279 – October 2020 EN STUDY Requested by the PETI committee
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Abstract This study, commissioned by the European Parliament™s Policy Department for Citizens™ Rights and Constitutional Affairs at the request of the Committee on Petitions (PETI) , focuses on the pervasive use of plastics and reviews the rising consensus on the potential eco -toxicological impacts of these materials, in particular of smaller plastic particles, dubbed microplastics. It discusses possible mitigation strategies aimed at curtailing the prevalence of (micro)plastics, as well as emerging alternatives and their environmental adequacy. Propelled by increasing awareness of the impacts of plastics and by public opinion, in recent years a multitude of norms, regulations, laws an d recommendations have b een proposed and/or implemented. These vary greatly across local, national, regional and international levels, and it is not clear what the beneficial impacts of these tools are. This study assesses these existing instruments, analy ses whether they are based on sound scientific data, and discusses foresee able challenges that could restrain the relevanc e and suitability of existing and future legislative proposals The environmental impacts of plastics and micro -plastics use, waste and pollution: EU and national measures
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This document was requested by the European Parliament’s Committee on Petitions . AUTHORS João PINTO DA COSTA, Department of Chemistry and CESAM, University of Aveiro, Portugal (lead author) . Teresa ROCHA -SANTOS, Department of Chemistry and CESAM, University of Aveiro, Portugal Armando C. DUARTE, Department of Chemistry and CESAM, University of Aveiro, Portugal ADMINISTRATOR RESPONSIBLE Jos H eezen EDITORIAL ASSISTANT Sandrina Marcuzzo LINGUISTIC VERSIONS Original: EN ABOUT THE EDITOR Policy departments provide in -house and external expertise to support EP committees and other parliamentary bodies in shaping legislation and exercising democratic scrutiny over EU internal policies. To contact the Policy Department or to subscribe for updates, please write to: Policy Department for Citizens™ Rights and Constitutional Affairs European Parliament B-1047 Brussels Email: poldep -firstname.lastname@example.org Manuscript completed in October 2020 © European Union , 2020 This document is available on the i nternet at: http://www.europarl. europa .eu/ supporting -analyses DISCLAIMER AND COPYRIGHT The opinions expressed in this document are the sole responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of the European Parliament. Reproduction and translation for non -commercial purposes are authorised, provided the sou rce is acknowledged and the European Parliament is given prior notice and sent a copy.
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The environmental impacts of plastics and micro -plastics use, waste and pollution: EU and national measures PE 658.279 3 CONTENTS LIST OF ABBREVIATION S 4 LIST OF BOXES 6 LIST OF FIGURES 6 LIST OF TABLES 7 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 8 1. THE PLASTIC AGE 10 1.1. Plastics and microplastics 10 1.2. Environmental impacts of plastics and microplastics 16 1.2.1. The fate of plastics in the environment 18 1.2.2. Effects of plastics 20 2. LAW S, NORMS AND REGULAT IONS GOVERNING (MICR O)PLASTICS 27 2.1. International level 28 2.2. Regional level 31 2.3. National level 36 3. CORRELATION AND EFFC IENCY 41 4. PETITIONS ON MICROPL ASTICS Œ ANALYSIS AN D RECCOMMENDATIONS 43 5. RESEARCH TRENDS IN ( POTENTIAL) SO LUTIONS, AND POLICY CONSIDERATIONS 47 5.1. Proffered solutions 47 5.1.1. Biodegradable plastics 47 5.1.2. Biodegrading organisms 49 5.1. 3. Energy conversion 50 5.1.4. Chemical recycling 50 5.2. Policy considerations and recommendations 51 6. THE PANDEMIC AND PLA STICS Œ BRIEF COMMENTARY 52 7. CONCLUSIONS 54 REFERENCES 55 ANNEX I – PETITIONS ANALYSED WITHIN THE SCOPE OF THIS STUDY 62
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IPOL | Policy Department for Citizens™ Rights and Constitutional Affairs 4 PE 658.279 LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS ABNJ Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction CBD Convention on Biological Diversity CH Switzerland CO Carbon monoxide CO2 Carbon dioxide COVID -9 Corona virus Disease 2019 DDT Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane ECHA European Chemicals Agency EPS Expanded polystyrene EU European Union FAO Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations GDP Gro ss Domestic Product GES Good Environmental Status GPA Global Program of Action GPML Global Partnership o n Marine Litter HDPE High density polyethylene HELCOM Helsinki Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area IMO International Maritime Organi sation IOC International Oceanographic Commission IUCN International Union for Conservation of Nature MARPOL International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships MSFD Marine Strategy Framework Directive NO Norway NOAA United States National Oceanic and Atmosphe ric Administration NOx Nitrogen oxides OSPAR Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North -East Atlantic PA Polyamides PAHs Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons PBDEs Polybrominated diphenyl ethers
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IPOL | Policy Department for Citizens™ Rights and Constitutional Affairs 6 PE 658.279 LIST OF BOXES Box 1: Plastic Pollution Facts 11 LIST OF FIGURES Figure 1: European (EU28+NO/CH) plastic converters demand by segment in 2018, totalling 51.2 Mt, according to Plastics Europe. 8 12 Figure 2: How microplastics are generated. Primary sources and secondary sources are identified. Image available at https://www.grida.no/resources/6929. Credit: Maphoto/Riccardo Pravettoni. 14 Figure 3: Global plastic waste management, 2015. Adapte d from Hamilton et al., 2019.32 16 Figure 4: Toxic exposure from incinerated mixed waste, containing plastic. NOx Œ nitrogen oxides; VOCs Œ volatile organic compounds; CO Œ carbon monoxide; PM Œ particulate matter; PAH Œ polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons; PCBs Œ polychlorinated biphenyl. Image credit: Nonprofitdesign.com. Adapted from Azoulay et al., 2019. 36 17 Figure 5: The multitude of sources and pathways through which plastics enter the environment. Image available at https://www.grida.no/resources/6922. Credit: Maphoto/Riccardo Pravettoni . 19 Figure 6: Size matters. Size of plastic debris affects the organisms that ingest, suffocate or become entangled in these materials. Image available at https://www.grida.no/resources/6924. Cre dit: Maphoto/Riccardo Pravettoni. 21 Figure 7: Conceptual model illustrating the potential biological effects of different sized pla stic materials. Note that the effects of macro – and mesoplastics may also be observed in smaller organisms and that exposure to chemicals alone may yield the listed effects. In this model, macroplastics correspond to plastic particles >1cm, mesoplastics ra nge between 1mm to 1 cm in size, microplastics measure between 1mm and 1 ˜m and nanoplastics are plastic particles <1 ˜m. Reprinted with permission from Elsevier. 24 Figure 8: Signatory parties to the MARPOL 73/78 Convention on marine pollution. 30 Figure 9: Regional coverage of action plans on marine litter. These may vary in features and extent of actions. For example, while the Barcelona Convention inc ludes legally binding measures, the Baltic and North Atlantic Conventions are based on sets of essential principles. Adapted from da Costa et al., 2020. 73 34 Figure 10: Global current legislative efforts (April 2020) regarding lightweight plastic bag laws. Adapted from Wikipedia and available under Attribution -ShareAlike 3.0 Creative Commons (CC BY -SA 3.0). 40 Figure 11: Distribution of polymers according to source materials and degree of biodegradability. Adapted from Paço et al., 2019. 126 48 PAGE - 9 ============ The environmental impacts of plastics and micro -plastics use, waste and pollution: EU and national measures PE 658.279 7 LIST OF TABLES Table 1: Main sources of primary and secondary microplastics. Adapted from Duis et al. (2016) 23 and da Costa et al. (2019). 24 14 Table 2: Common plastic additives used in the manufacture of plastic products. Adapted fr om da Costa et al. , 2017 67 and Nerland et al ., 2014. 68 23 Table 3: Additional international treaties, agreements, conventions or initiatives aimed at the management of pollution and conservation. A brief description of each accord is included, as well as the international coverage of signatories. The list does not purpor t to be exhaustive. It is merely indicative of the numerous and varying regulatory initiatives in place. Adapted from da Costa et al., 2020 73 . 34 Table 4: Summary of European countries, alphabetically listed, that have in place regulations on single -use plastics. When available, impacts of the regulations are detailed. Adapted from Giacovelli, 2018. 108 37 PAGE - 10 ============ IPOL | Policy Department for Citizens™ Rights and Constitutional Affairs 8 PE 658.279 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Plastics are a modern marvel , they have benefited society across all sectors, including in the health and food sectors, saving countless lives. Since the industrial production of plastics began in the 1950s, the volumes of plastics produced have outpaced those of almost any other material. However, the same characteristics that render plastics highly desirable are also those that render them ubiqu itous in the environment , especially as a large fraction of plastics is designed to be discarded almost immediately following their use. Society™s ability to cope with the sheer amounts of plastic produced and discarded is vastly overwhelmed , and only 9% o f all the plastic ever manufactured has been recycled. Most of th e plastic waste ends up in landfills and, ultimately, in the environment. Most plastics do not degrade . I nstead , they slowly fragment into smaller particles, referred to as microplastics, an d, probably, nanoplastics. These particles, whether in the form of larger or smaller plastics, have profound detrimental consequences for ecosystems, biota, and the environment, but also for the economy and human health. Plastics have been found in the sto mach contents of numerous organisms, including earthworms, birds, turtles, dolphins and whales . S maller particles may be even more pervasive, as these may be ingested by organisms that are at the basis of different food webs. One such example is the recent ly discovered new species Eurythenes plasticus , an amphipod found at a depth of 6,900 meters and named after the plastic found to contaminate its gut . Before we even knew it, we had already contaminated it. Hydrophobic and exhibiting high surface area -to-volume ratios, smaller plastic particles can adsorb other contaminants and act as either sinks or sources of contamination in organisms. In addition, chemicals used to improve the characteristics of plastics - known as plastici sers - can leach into the environment a nd constitute new routes of exposure to organisms, potentially leading to bioaccumulation phenomena. The inherent economic impact due to plastic waste is also vast. Studies suggest an economic dama ge to the global marine ecosystem s surpassing • 11 billion . I n Europe, • 630 million are spent e very year to clean plastic waste from coasts and beaches while the failure to recycle costs the European economy • 105 billion. In January 2018, China banned t he import of waste in order to stop the crushing flow of low -grade plastic waste. This ban had a profound impact throughout the world, as Western nations were suddenly confronted with vast amounts of such waste with no management strategies to deal with th em. This highlight s the urgent need to restructure existing recycling systems and policies on the production of plastic and its disposal . Additionally, the announcement of the Chinese ban led to a sharp fall in EU export prices for plastic waste in 2016. From over • 320/tonne , the extra -EU export price ha s fallen to • 244/tonne in 2019. The environmental, health and economic reasons to act are clear. Consequently, there is a growing international determination to reconsider and evaluate the use of plastics at all stages of their life -cycle . This not only includes design and manufacture, but also use, reuse, and end of life management, with a special focus on the inputs and removal of plastics from the environment. A variety of regulatory and legislative to ols exist s, aimed at controlling, reducing and managing the use of plastics, with a particular emphasis on single -use plastics. Existing legislation consists mainly of levies , bans, and voluntary efforts through the 3R rule: reduce , reuse and recycle . However, these regulatory instruments have had a limited impact, in volume, scope, or both, especially when considering the exponential yearly increase in production and use of plastics, including the growing synthesis of new materials with new application s. PAGE - 11 ============ The environmental impacts of plastics and micro -plastics use, waste and pollution: EU and national measures PE 658.279 9 Moreover, recycling of plastic waste remains problematic because of the inherent difficulties with the collection and separation of the feedstocks used in the recycling process. Alternative solutions, such as energy conversion (incineration) have sever e environmental impacts and detrimental consequences for the climate . Improvement s on plastic legislation are therefore needed to be able to better consider and address environmental and human health impacts. Importantly, most of the exi sting tools are des igned to address plastic waste at the end of its life -cycle, i.e. following its manufacture. Upstream legislative approaches are needed to stimulate a zero -waste target, which will undoubtedly improve the feasibility and efficacy of future plastic policies . Key findings Plastic production has exponentially increased and presently surpasses the 359 million tonnes mark. Of this, nearly 40% is intended to be used as packaging, i.e. destined for immediate or near immediate disposal. Approximately two -thirds of all plastic ever produced has been released into the environment, where it continues to impact ecosystems as it fragments and degrades. In the form of debris, micro - and nanoplastics, these materials are found in the oceans, the air and soils. Some of these materials (e.g. nanoplastics) are intentionally added to various types of products and are therefore present in water supplies and even in the human body. Uncertainties and knowledge gaps undermine the full understanding of t he ecological, toxicological and environmental impacts of plastics. Reducing toxic exposure to plastic waste, in all its forms, requires a plethora of solutions, both voluntary and legislative. Ideally, production, use and disposal of plastic s should be dealt with at a global level , as existing supply chains cross and re -cross borders, continents and oceans. ﬁStick and carrotﬂ legislative approaches are needed , aimed at rewarding those Œ consumers, producers and suppliers Œ working towards a zero -waste st rategy, while highly punitive actions should be developed for offenders . 362 KB – 76 Pages