BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union is at risk of missing its plastic packaging recycling targets, the European Court of Auditors (ECA) said on Tuesday, warning an incoming ban on exports of trash to poorer nations will increase the risk of a plastic waste pile-up.
Europe produced 29 million tonnes of post-consumer plastic waste in 2018, more than 60% of which was packaging.
But more plastic waste is incinerated than recycled in Europe, which the auditors attributed to a lack of facilities that could mean it struggles to reach a target recycling rate for plastic packaging of 50% by 2025 and 55% by 2030.
International rules will allow only pre-sorted, uncontaminated recyclable plastics to be shipped to non-OECD countries from 2021, meaning the bloc can send less waste abroad, makes expanding capacity even more urgent, the ECA said.
“There is a huge need for recycling capacities,” said ECA member Samo Jereb.
Nearly one-third of all the plastic packaging Europe currently recycles is shipped abroad for recycling.
The EU and national governments also need to better enforce laws on illegal waste disposal, Jereb said, adding: “If there is a possibility to avoid these rules with illegal actions, and there is no dissuading with appropriate sanctions, of course, crime will flourish.”
“Significant efforts are needed in order to deal with plastic waste and pollution and to ensure the overall sustainability of plastics,” a European Commission spokeswoman said.
The Commission will propose new rules next year, to help ensure all packaging is reusable or recyclable by 2030. It has also proposed a new tax on member states’ plastic waste, to shore up funds for the next EU budget.
Some EU countries have already enacted domestic measures, such as plastic bottle deposit return schemes in Germany and Slovakia.
The EU’s environment commissioner has warned that the COVID-19 pandemic could increase litter in the form of disposable masks and gloves.
The coronavirus crisis has also intensified a price war between recycled plastics producers and makers of virgin plastics, which had already been rendered much cheaper to produce by a plunge in oil prices.
Recent changes to EU rules should give a clearer picture of actual recycling rates, the ECA said. But the more rigorous reporting requirements could see the EU’s official plastic recycling rate drop from 42% currently, to around 30%, it warned -- leaving an even bigger gap with the new targets.
Reporting by Kate Abnett; Editing by Catherine Evans
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