Wasteland – Europe’s plastic disaster

Wasteland animation still

From yoghurt pots and milk cartons to shampoo bottles and toothpaste tubes, Europeans produce an average of 35kg of plastic packaging waste each per year. According to the OECD, plastic consumption will triple by 2060. Packaging and shopping bags amassed in daily life are not recycled and instead end up in landfills or incinerators. It is estimated that at best 40 per cent of Europe’s plastic waste is recycled.

The lack of recycling is paired with an enormous demand for new plastic, which brings dramatic consequences. Plastic is made from oil and gas, fossil fuels that drive the climate crisis. Researchers in the United States predict plastic production and disposal will be responsible for 15 per cent of global CO2 emissions by 2050. It is also accelerating an unprecedented environmental catastrophe. European and US researchers recently calculated that 11 million tonnes of plastic waste flow into the oceans every year. By 2030, it could be twice as much – if politicians, business and people do not act.

Back in 2015, the EU presented an action plan for a circular economy and vowed to “close the loop”. In the future, raw materials like plastic should circulate endlessly. From production to the supermarket, to the dining table, to the rubbish bin and back to the recycling plant. New plastic would seamlessly emerge from old. In a closed, circular system, raw materials would be reused again and again, and looming climate and environmental crises would be averted.

But as new research by Investigate Europe documents, the EU is still far from achieving this seven years after presenting its recycling plan.

Read more on the findings of our Wasteland investigation on our site or with our media partners below – including what potential real solutions to the issue could look like.

This investigation is supported by the Journalismfund Europe’s Earth Investigations Programme.