EU Policy. Lawmakers vote to include shipping in plastic pollution rules

Rebecca Blackwell / AP
Rebecca Blackwell / AP Copyright Rebecca Blackwell/Copyright 2021 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Marta Pacheco
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Decision to consider maritime transport will be discussed next week by EU environment ministers. The draft bill also features penalties linked to an environmental fund designed to tackle microplastic pollution.


MEPs have given a green light to proposed new rules designed to reduce and prevent microplastic pollution, but tweaked the European Commission’s proposal so that the measures would also cover maritime transport.

The parliament’s environment (ENVI) committee voted on March 19 on a report prepared by MEP Joāo Albuquerque (Portugal/S&D) with 71 votes in favour and five against, following a proposal by the EU executive tabled in October last year, which only considered river transportation.

Up to 180,000 tonnes of pellets are estimated to be released into the environment every year, with many of the spills happening at sea.

The voted text included a range of amendments loosening the limited definition of the means of transport carrying the plastic pellets with the aim of easing the inclusion of maritime transport. Lawmakers also voted on matters linked to monitoring and implementation, in line with International Maritime Organisation (IMO) rules.

Parliament urged the EU to “follow closely the developments at the IMO” and to “play a leading role in ensuring a high-level of environmental protection on this issue”.

Albuquerque called on the commission to clearly include shipping since so much plastic pellet pollution comes from maritime transport.

Next week (March 25) EU environment ministers will discuss whether the proposed law should cover maritime transportation.

Frédérique Mongodin, senior marine litter policy officer at the NGO Seas at Risk welcomed the provisions including shipping, noting that recent events in Galicia and France helped raise awareness of the pollution caused by plastic pellets.

The proposed law also introduces mandatory loss tracking and reporting, clean-up obligations and a tailored approach for enterprises to implement their obligations.

“With mandatory labeling of containers carrying plastic pellets and enhanced measures for marine transport, we're taking concrete action to prevent future ecological disasters and safeguarding our ecosystems and marine life from further harm,” MEP Ska Keller (Germany/Greens) told Euronews.

MEP Deirdre Clune (Ireland/EPP) said the new rules will help member states to better trace origins of spillages so that the polluters can be forced to take responsibility.

Penalties linked to non-compliance were set at 3% of the EU’s annual turnover, instead of the 4% of a company’s annual turnover of the EU country concerned, originally proposed by the commission.

An environmental fund with the money collected from penalties was also agreed.

“The ENVI committee report also introduces the possibility for member states to allocate part of the revenue generated by penalties to support projects aimed at cleaning up areas polluted by plastic and combating this pollution,” MEP Catherine Chabaud (France/Renew) told Euronews.

A vote on the proposal to reduce pollution from plastic pellets is due in April, during the last plenary session in Strasbourg before the EU elections.

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