Waste types and controls—plastics

The following Environment practice note provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Waste types and controls—plastics
  • Plastic waste—the problem
  • International controls on plastic waste
  • MARPOL—international controls on plastic waste
  • London Convention and London Protocol—international controls on plastic waste
  • OSPAR—international controls on plastic waste
  • United Nations Resolution on Marine Litter and Microplastics—international controls on plastic waste
  • Basel Convention—international controls on plastic waste
  • European legislation on plastic waste
  • Waste Framework Directive—European legislation on plastic waste
  • More...

Waste types and controls—plastics

Plastic waste—the problem

Dealing with plastic waste is not a new issue, and for many years, controls such as those found in the Waste Framework Directive 2008/98/EC (Waste Framework Directive) and its predecessor directives, have provided rules on how waste should be dealt with. Concepts such as the waste hierarchy, which sets out how various waste streams, including plastics, should be managed in order to reduce landfill disposal, by prevention, preparing for re-use, and by recycling or using other recovery methods are key frameworks in this area. These work alongside other controls—many of which are outlined below in more detail.

What has changed more recently, is an increasing awareness of the problems associated with plastics, particularly in the marine environment, as well as a greater understanding of how plastics degrade and leach into the environment.

Around 25.8 million tonnes of plastic waste are generated every year in Europe of which less than 30% is collected for recycling, 31% ends up in landfill and 39% is incinerated. Globally 1.5% to 4% of plastic production ends up in the oceans.

In the UK, approximately five million tonnes of plastic is used every year, nearly half of which is packaging.

The Eunomia, Plastics in the marine environment report, sets out that the total annual plastics entering the marine environment reached 12.2 million tonnes—with over 80% of this

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