Plastic bottles are some of the worst pollutants as they take hundreds of years to decompose

Citizens’ Initiative ‘ReturnthePlastics’ calls for reverse plastic bottle vending machines across the EU

Citizens’ Initiative ‘ReturnthePlastics’ calls for reverse plastic bottle vending machines across the EU

‘ReturnthePlastics’ also calls for a plastic bottle tax on the biggest producers under the principle ‘the polluter pays’

On 13 August the European Commission decided to register a European Citizens’ Initiative to curb plastic bottle pollution. The initiative is titled ‘ReturnthePlastics’ and it envisions an EU-wide deposit system to recycle plastic bottles.

The long road ahead

The organisers want to create a system with EU-wide legislative backing to install plastic bottle disposal machines. The legislation should incentivise supermarkets selling bottles to install reverse vending machines.

At the same time, to reduce the overall production of bottles, the companies that produce them should be subject to a plastic tax under the principle ‘the polluter pays’.

The fact that the initiative was registered in the EU commission, however, is just the first step. Now, the organisers have to start a Europe-wide campaign for collecting signatures. A European Citizens’ Initiative needs a million signatures from at least seven member states for the EU Commission to react at all.

This makes pushing a citizens’ initiative through to the Commission particularly difficult, as it requires international cooperation and a lot of resources. And after that, the initiative is not even legally binding. The Commission can choose to either take the request forward or not and that is that. The only thing they are bound to do is give an official explanation on why the request has been denied or accepted.

A way to push citizens’ issues up to the top

The European Citizens’ Initiative is an agenda-setting tool for the citizens of the continent. In theory, it should help to increase their direct control over the European Commission and push for particular legislation, that could in theory slip past the various political interests in the European Commission.

The tool was introduced with the Lisbon Treaty in 2012 and it also sets out some conditions on the admissibility of citizens initiatives.

  1. The proposed action does not fall outside the framework of the Commissions’ power to submit legislation;
  2. It is not abuse, frivolous or vexatious;
  3. It is not manifestly contrary to the values of the European Union.

Up to this point, 107 citizens initiatives have made it to the Commission and 82 of them have been registered.

So far there have been 6 successful initiatives, with the first one, Right2Water, registered back in 2013. Right2Water argued for recognising that water (both drinking and sanitation) is a fundamental human right and it is the government’s responsibility to provide it. The Commission accepted the Drinking Water Directive in 2015.



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