Responsible citizenship still crucial for water sector

New Dutch and EU strategies on plastic

This week the European-wide  strategy on plastics was launched, as was the Dutch transition agenda for plastics. Both are presented in the context of further articulating and stimulating the circular economy. Both plastic strategies are relevant for the water sector, to prevent occurrence and adverse effects of micro- and nanoplastics and plastic additives for humans and the ecosystem.

In the Netherlands the agenda aims at all plastics being circular in 2050, having a lower footprint and being made from recycled or renewable materials. In 2050 plastics should be of a certified quality, banning the use of substances of concern. The agenda also mentions steps to be taken until 2030, such as a diminished leakage of plastic materials and innovations needed therefore, lower use of ‘virgin’ plastics, less burning of plastic, better use of sorting technologies.

The EU agenda aims at transforming design, production, use, and recycling of plastic products. The agenda intends to only use recyclable plastic packaging by 2030, to reduce single-use of plastics and to consider restrictions on the intentional use of microplastics and oxo-degradable plastics. Also the European agenda mentions the presence of substances of concern in the plastics, and proposed a tracing and information system here so that recycling for multiple uses is not hampered.

Impact on surface water

Ospar, The Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North‐East Atlantic, recently assessed land-based inputs of microplastics in the marine environment. Their assessment shows that tyre wear, land-based litter and paint are the most important land-based contributors of microplastics to surface water catchments, so these sources probably are also the most relevant sources for the water sector.

The OSPAR findings are not very clearly reflected in both the Dutch and European plastic strategies. A ban on the intentional use of microplastics helps, but can only partly solve the nano- and microplastic presence in the water system. The fact that future plastics will be more circularly produced, using renewable and/or biobased materials, in itself does not reduce of nano-and microplastic pollution. Use of fully and easily degradable plastics will, as this shortens the life cycle of plastics after their environmental emission. A diminished use of plastics certainly leads to lower emission, but to achieve this, a lot depends on responsible habits and behavior in citizens.