European Commissioner Sinkevicius cleans up trash from canal on World Cleanup Day

Amidst significant press interest, European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans, and Fisheries Virginjus Sinkevicius joined us on World Cleanup Day to fish out trash from the canal. World Cleanup Day is generaly a day when waste is cleaned up globally in public spaces, along waterways, and on beaches. This primarily draws attention to citizens who clean up waste themselves, and little is said about how this waste actually enters the world, who produces all this waste?

This year, as we do all year round, we wanted to highlight a different message. And we have succeeded in doing so.

Promptly at 10 a.m., the Commissioner was present with his 7-year-old son and surrounded by colleagues from the Commission. Just as always, the activity began with an explanation from us about the issues we are trying to address and the solutions we propose. These include a trash barrier, plinths along the canal, the deposit system for cans and plastic bottles, supermarkets and producers being obliged to use more reusable packaging instead of single-use packaging, selling products in bulk, redesigning packaging to make them plastic-free, and reducing plastic production annually. Additionally, stopping sewage overflows is crucial because they release microplastics into waterways. During cleanup efforts like World Cleanup Day, larger pieces of waste are collected, but microplastics are impossible to clean up, once they enter nature, they remain there.

It is never too late to clean up, the waste that ends up in nature must eventually be removed. However, every organized cleanup effort should go beyond this. Where does all this waste come from? Who produces all this packaging? Why does all this plastic end up in nature in the first place? Will recycling get us out of this plastic crisis? Are there solutions that can move us forward? What we see today is that environmental organizations invest a lot of time and effort in stricter environmental measures like the deposit system, more reusable packaging and selling products without packaging, while supermarkets and producers do exactly the opposite. For decades, they have been fighting against the introduction of the deposit system, lobbying at the European level against increased quotas for reusable packaging, and we hardly see any products sold unpackaged in large supermarkets, even though it is possible for so many products, just take a look at your local bio store. In addition, society is inundated with advertisements for beverages and other products in single-use packaging, this summer, it was impossible to miss. When we only see single-use packaging in the streets and in supermarkets, and constantly hear that we are champions of recycling, how can we turn the tide? How can we transition to a circular consumption model?

Ambitious legislation is needed to compel the industry to take these steps! Because the industry will never do it voluntarily, as the system they have established works too well and is too profitable. But we do really need a different system, the current system is destroying nature. Transportation and production chains must be globally coordinated to enable reuse. Just as when you buy a mobile phone in Europe and can use it in Asia, the same international coordination should happen for reusable packaging. Therefore, we hope for a strong revision of the European packaging and packaging waste directive. At both the European and national levels, governments must initiate the transition, there is a better way than throw away. The commissioner agreed with this, and he also would like to see ambitious legislation emerge to turn the tide on plastic pollution.

Cleanup campaigns are also organized by the industry, not just on World Cleanup Day. During these campaigns, citizens are called upon to pick up as much waste as possible, with no mention of the industry’s responsibility in the whole story. This way, the complete blame is placed on the consumer in a vicious way, the consumer is expected to stop littering, while the industry can continue producing plastic at an ever-increasing pace. After does cleanup campaigns, we can all go home with a good feeling, but the next day, you’ll likely find just as much waste in the same place. As long as we don’t change the system, we can clean up endlessly to no avail.