European countries provide a variety of solutions to the plastic challenge

Press release 2022-08-11 at 7:59

European countries are taking action to promote the circular economy of plastics and to prevent their negative impacts. The Finnish Environment Institute SYKE examined the selection of measures in different countries. The report found differences between countries in terms of the detail of plans and speed of action.

The circular economy of plastics is advanced in Europe mainly through regulatory, market-based, and financing measures. In addition to these, countries are utilizing informative measures, voluntary agreements as well as different research and development activities. However, more specific information about the implementation schedule was often missing from the plans of many countries. Also, follow-up data about the effectiveness was rarely available. The strategy of the Netherlands positively stood out as it declared the budgets and schedules for the measures in an exceptional detail.

In Finland, the circular economy of plastics is advanced in The Plastics Roadmap coordinated by the Ministry of the Environment. The roadmap was originally published in 2018 and updated in the beginning of 2022. The update took into account the evaluation of the original roadmap as well as the results from research projects that supported its implementation. The updated version also includes a schedule for Finland to reach the circular economy of plastics by 2030.

Similar strategies as well as singular measures have also been implemented in other European countries. For example, Denmark and the Netherlands published their national action plans the same year with Finland. The action plan of Sweden is currently being prepared and it is based on various studies and research.

International cooperation is key to solving plastic challenges

Plastic is suitable material for many uses and therefore solving the challenges related to it is an important part of the sustainability transformation that aims towards a carbon-neutral circular economy. The solutions must examine the raw materials, design, and use of plastics. Reuse and recycling of plastics are particularly important in a circular economy. These measures also help to mitigate climate change and other harmful impacts on the environment.

The most visible disadvantage of plastic is littering. The environmental and health effects of littering do not remain local, and the movements of litter do not consider the borders of countries. Therefore, international cooperation is essential. This spring, a historical step towards mitigating plastic pollution was taken in the United Nations Environment Assembly where nations committed to developing an agreement for ending plastic pollution. The agreement is meant to become legally binding and to cover the entire life cycle of plastic. Finland is participating in the negotiations as a member country of UN.

Sharing information and good practices are also important forms of cooperation, and the new SYKE report helps to advance them.
“The circular economy of plastics is a very current topic, and the situation is constantly evolving. We encourage everyone to look for the most recent information about the measures”, says Researcher Milja Räisänen from SYKE.

Bio-labels cause confusion

In the SYKE report, differences were also found in the ways different European countries deal with substitutes for traditional plastics, such as bio-based and biodegradable plastics.
“There is significant potential in bio-based plastics, but a lot of development is still needed, and comprehensive sustainability assessments are required for example comparing bio-based and recycled plastics”, says Senior Research Scientist Sari Kauppi from SYKE.

In discussions about plastic, bio-based plastics are often confused with biodegradable. Bio-based plastics are made from renewable materials, and they are not necessarily biodegradable. On the other hand, traditional oil-based plastics can be biodegradable. However, many biodegradable plastics are not degradable in natural conditions but only in the conditions of a biowaste treatment facility.

Biodegradable-label on a product may encourage littering. To prevent this, France has prohibited claims such as “biodegradable” or “respects the environment” on plastic packages and products.

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Further information

Researcher Milja Räisänen, The Finnish Environment Institute,, Tel. 029 525 2085

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