Scientists, politicians, and civil society alike have raised the alarm: we are drowning in plastic. The EU has responded to urgent calls for action, making 2018 a milestone in the fight against plastic waste in Europe. But does the action go far enough? Can plastic fit into a circular economy? Why is plastic a political issue? To address these questions, the Green European Journal has put together a focus which navigates the plastic debate bringing together voices from across Europe and beyond.
Since production of the ‘miracle material’ took off in the 1950s, plastic has become a cornerstone of modern-day life, with uses ranging from life-changing prosthetic limbs to utterly superfluous individually wrapped fruit. Low rates of reuse and recycling mean that products consumed in minutes take hundreds of years to decompose. A colossal amount of plastic enters the ocean every year, where it degrades habitats, chokes wildlife, and is eaten by fish. Plastic is not just a battle for environmentalists. The debate is intertwined with broader concerns, from social inequalities to health and the plastic value chain links the Global North and South in an unequal cycle of extraction, consumption, and dumping.
Awareness has rocketed in recent years. Countries from France and the UK to Kenya and Chile have introduced product bans, with varying results. China’s import ban on certain kinds of waste has been a wake-up call to European countries previously happy to export their refuse elsewhere. Yet while momentum to tackle the crisis is growing, the struggle remains an uphill one. Production of plastics is set to increase by 40 per cent in the next decade and industry lobbies are gearing up to weaken new legislation. Now more than ever, the plastic debate is a crucial one.
Articles in this focus
An interview with plastic waste campaigners who call for curbs on plastic production to effectively contain plastic pollution at source.Read more
In a world where plastic objects are almost unavoidable, we asked an advocate for bioplastics whether they can truly offer a sustainable alternative.Read more
As the EU acts on plastic pollution, industry lobbyists are upping their game in an effort to water down proposals.Read more
The EU is taking small steps to combatting plastic pollution, yet truly changing our relationship with plastic calls for rethinking consumption-based growth.Read more
Public momentum to tackle plastic waste is strong in the UK, but political barriers stall further progress.Read more
An interview with Italian Green MEP Marco Affronte on how recent EU legislation on plastic is a milestone in the fight against global plastic pollution.Read more