Europe has waited for 72% of its taps to spill water contaminated with plastic to announce its strategy to reduce this toxic material.
The very title of the press release, presented on January 16 by the European Commission, "Plastic waste: a European strategy to protect the planet, defend citizens and empower industries" makes clear the ambiguity of the objectives.
The European strategy: late and unambitious
Frans Timmermans, Vice President of the European Commission (an institution that has been opposed for years to the efficient regulation of hormonal pollutants present in plastics), now assures:
“We have to prevent plastics from reaching water and food, and even our body. The only long-term solution is to reduce plastic waste by increasing its recycling and reuse. "
It seems that the European institutions are suddenly surprised at how far plastic pollution has gone without Europe having taken measures to prevent it.
But the new strategy talks about classic solutions such as improving the recyclability of plastics, building more recycling plants, reducing the use of plastic bags or banning single-use plastics, among others.
Today, with 25 million tonnes of plastic waste per year in Europe, these solutions are clearly insufficient.
Plastic releases hormonal pollutants
For decades plastic has been thought of as a safe and inert material thanks to the persuasive marketing campaigns carried out by its producers.
Now, after years of exposure, we know that plastic releases toxic additives, many of them hormonal disruptors like phthalates or bisphenol A that mimic natural hormones and can cause serious effects on human and animal health.
And since plastic is everywhere, from shoes to mobile phones, from your container to your clothes, exposure is ubiquitous: we expose ourselves through food contaminated by the packaging themselves, through skin exposed to cosmetics with microspheres or polyester clothing or through the breathing of the indoor air of the home, more polluted than the outside according to studies like this one carried out in Barcelona in 2016.
The problem of microplastics
Plastic breaks down into tiny fibers less than 5mm called microplastics.
Microplastics act like small sponges that accumulate toxic molecules and are ingested by animals, as this video shows:
Of course, larger animals such as fish, birds or humans also eat plastic and the pollutants attached to it, causing serious damage to fauna and human health.
The new European strategy against plastic aims to prohibit the intentional addition of microplastics in European products, as in cosmetics or detergents.
This ban will be implemented as a restriction of the REACH Regulation, the main European standard on chemical substances.
But this restriction, although adequate, again falls short because it does not take into account the greatest source of origin of microplastics, clothing.
With each wash in the washing machine, our clothes release microfibers like those in the image below, which end up reaching the sea.
In conclusion, the solution is to disengage from plastic (and not just single-use plastic, as the Commission suggests). The problem is urgent for Europe especially now that it can already export plastic waste to China.
How to unhook yourself from the plastic?