Too much plastic waste is being burnt to produce energy, told a conference on the future of the plastics sector in Germany. The commissioner will suggest options to reduce such waste in coming weeks.
"Landfill rates must go down as quickly as possible but it is also important to switch from energy recovery to increased recycling," he said on Friday.
Figures from industry association PlasticsEurope show member states such as Germany, Austria, Sweden and Denmark have high energy recovery rates. And according to a study by the same organisation the majority of the plastic waste that does not end up in landfill tends to be used for energy recovery – about 64%.
"A dominance of energy recovery is not acceptable in the medium term," added the commissioner. "Too often plastic is down-cycled," he stressed, pointing out that 160,000 jobs could be created in the EU with a 70% plastic recycling rate by 2020.
The European Commission's forthcoming green paper on plastic waste will put particular emphasis on marine litter and plastic bags, delegates heard.
The best option to reduce the number of plastic bags is likely to be the introduction of pricing measures combined with targets, Mr Potočnik said. The commission is current finalising an impact assessment following a consultation.
Using more bio-plastics does not appear to be a viable solution because they can contaminate recycling systems for conventional plastics, he said. And because they only decompose under specific conditions, bio-plastics pose a threat to the marine environment. There are also issues regarding competition with foodcrops.