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Plastic in Focus

In 2018, we find ourselves in the midst of a global, snowballing crisis. 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 year in the fight against plastic waste in Europe. But does the EU’s action go far enough? Can plastic fit into a circular economy? Are bioplastics a solution? Why is plastic a political issue? To address these questions and many more, the Green European Journal has put together a focus which navigates the plastic debate with articles and interviews bringing together voices and perspectives 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. In the food and drink industry, use of plastic packaging has boomed with the rise of takeaways and convenience lifestyles. Low rates of reuse and recycling mean that products consumed in minutes take hundreds of years to decompose, leaking into the environment with devastating effects. A colossal amount of plastic enters the ocean every year, where it degrades habitats, chokes wildlife, and is eaten by fish.

But plastic is not just a battle for environmentalists. The debate is intertwined with broader concerns, from social inequalities to health. The plastic value chain traverses the planet, linking the global north and south in an unequal cycle of extraction, consumption, and dumping, to the detriment of the seas and oceans, our shared global commons. Ultimately, the plastic crisis exposes the shortsightedness of consumption-driven society and shows the urgent need for change.

Globally, awareness has rocketed around plastics in recent years. Single-use and micro-plastics have risen as strategic points where there is much at stake. 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.

An illustration showing the planet being sucked dry through a straw.1. Beyond Recycling: Rethinking Plastic From the Ground Up

An interview with plastic waste campaigner Delphine Lévi Alvarès, who calls for curbs on plastic production to effectively contain plastic pollution at source.

Illustration: wind turbines and sustainability2. Sustainable Plastic? The Bioplastic (Com)Promise

In a world where plastic objects are almost unavoidable, we asked Kristy-Barbara Lange, an advocate for bioplastics, whether they can truly offer a sustainable alternative.

Illustration: A surfboarder surfing on a wave filled with rubbish3. Plastic promises: industry seeking to avoid binding regulations

As the EU acts on plastic pollution, industry lobbyists are upping their game in an effort to water down proposals. An article by Vicky Cann from Corporate Europe Observatory.

Illustration: an idealised green city4. The Road to the New Plastics Economy: Complexity Ahead

The EU is taking small steps to combat plastic pollution, yet truly changing our relationship with plastic calls for a rethinking of consumption-based growth. An article by Jean-Pierre Schweitzer and Yianna Sigalou.

5. The UK Plastic Crisis Unwrapped

Natalie Bennett describes how public momentum to tackle plastic waste is strong in the UK, but political barriers stall further progress.

Illustration of a Parliament6. EU Action on Plastic: A Promising Step for Cleaner Seas

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.

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