China's ban on plastic imports creates an 'excellent opportunity to create a single market for secondary plastic and plastic waste' © Reuters

Brussels wants to create an EU market for waste plastic and make all such packaging in the bloc recyclable by 2030 to encourage a so-called circular economy.

Jyrki Katainen, the European Commission’s vice-president for jobs and growth, said only 6 per cent of plastics in the bloc were recycled and that common quality standards would increase the amount of material that industry could reuse. “We don't have well-functioning plastic waste markets, [because] the quality standards are different and the supply of recycled plastic is smaller than it could be,” he said.

The commission promised €100m for new technologies and innovations and restrictions on so-called microplastics, under 5mm. It will also propose ways to cut down on single-use plastic items. It expects to make legally binding proposals to the parliament and member states in May. 

Mr Katainen said a plastics tax, raised last week by Günther Oettinger, the budget commissioner, was a “fascinating idea” and was being considered but would be “quite complicated” to implement.

Europe produces 25m tonnes of plastic waste annually, of which two-thirds is used in packaging. Only 5 per cent of the value of the output was recovered so between €70bn and €105bn was lost to the economy every year, Mr Katainen said.

The strategy published on Tuesday builds on a binding EU target that by 2030 the bloc must recycle 55 per cent of plastic packaging, up from 30 per cent today.

This rate is expected to drop after China banned imports of plastic waste, meaning the bloc may be forced to incinerate or dump plastic. Beijing’s import ban created “a positive crisis coming on global plastic markets” and “an excellent opportunity to create a single market for secondary plastic and plastic waste”, Mr Katainen said.

Environmental organisations welcomed the EU strategy as a good first step but highlighted the need for the bloc to binding targets. Delphine Lévi Alvarès, of the Rethink Plastic Alliance, said laws were needed “to drastically reduce the consumption of both single-use plastic items and packaging within this commission’s term”. 

The EU plastics sector generated €350bn of sales in 2015 and employed 1.5m people.

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