Michael Carus, The founder and Managing Director of the nova-Institute studied physics and mathematics at the University of Cologne. Carus became a lecturer at the University of Tübingen, on the topics of ecology, nuclear energy, and radioactivity. He worked as a science journalist and scientist at the KATALYSE Environmental Institute with a focus on energy, ecology, and renewable resources, and two years in the solar industry. In 1994, he founded the nova-Institute for Ecology and Innovation. © Nova Institute, Cologne

Single-use plastics: New EU rules to reduce marine litter

Plastics are magical materials, and they will be even more important in the future than they are today. But they lead to microplastics in the environment, especially noticeable as “marine littering.” The European Commission is now proposing, among other things, a ban on certain single-use plastic products, including “plastic cotton buds, cutlery, plates, straws, drink stirrers, and sticks for balloons, which will all have to be made exclusively from more sustainable materials instead.” The Commission’s legislative proposal must then be negotiated with the member states and the European Parliament. And here substantial changes should still be made – because so far industry and politics continued to fail in this area.

Microplastics have been in the public eye for at least ten years.The plastics industry has waited until the public pressure became too high to ignore. Then their argument was, what can our plastics do if people do not handle our products properly and politicians do not organise better recycling programmes? But in fact, the plastics industry can do something about it. For years, there has been another solution for plastic products that are practically impossible to recycle or whose preparation is far too costly: biodegradable plastics.

The European Commission has spent several million Euros over the last ten years to develop and certify such plastics. Plastics that are biodegradable in water, soil, home compost or industrial composting and do not leave any microparticles behind. And today there are many producers of biodegradable plastics; there are certifications and labels. But these new plastics are still a little too expensive to become sure-fire success. And now they don’t even get a chance in the new European plastics strategy!

Seize the opportunity for innovation and sustainability now. We prohibit single-use products if they are not biodegradable. But let us give biodegradable plastics, which have been successfully developed for years, their chance on the market! We also need alternatives to plastic products that, even when used properly, end up in the environment and are difficult or impossible to recycle. A few examples would be mulch films, tree protection covers, plant clips, binding yarns, strings for lawn trimmers, carrier polymers for fertilizers and pesticides, and even plastic baits at sea. Let us take a step forward in all of Europe. Because now is the time when the rules for the coming decades are being made.