EU citizens can take legal action on air pollution in deal reached with Council

MEPs vote on rules allowing citizens to receive compensation if their health has been damaged

Taking air pollution measurements at the Grand Harbour (Photo by Alexandr Krushlinsky)
Taking air pollution measurements at the Grand Harbour (Photo by Alexandr Krushlinsky)

MEPs have approved a provisional agreement with EU countries for new measures to improve air quality in the EU so it is no longer harmful to human health, natural ecosystems and biodiversity, by 381 votes in favour, 225 against, and 17 abstentions.

The majority of the votes against were from a faction of EPP members, but Nationalist MEP David Casa voted in favour of the stricter 2030 limits and target values for pollutants with a severe impact on human health, including particulate matter (PM2.5, PM10), NO2 (nitrogen dioxide), and SO2 (sulphur dioxide).

Member states may request that the 2030 deadline be postponed by up to ten years, if specific conditions are met. If the new national rules are violated, those affected by air pollution will be able to take legal action, and citizens may receive compensation if their health has been damaged.

More air quality sampling points will also be set up in cities and currently-fragmented air quality indices across the EU will become comparable, clear and publicly available.

“By updating air quality standards, some of which were established nearly two decades ago, pollution will be halved across the EU, paving the way for a healthier, more sustainable future. Thanks to Parliament, the updated rules improve air quality monitoring and protect vulnerable groups more effectively. Today is a significant victory in our continuous commitment to secure a safer, cleaner environment for all Europeans,” said Spanish rapporteur Javi López.

The law now also has to be adopted by Council.

Air pollution continues to be the number one environmental cause of early death in the EU, with around 300,000 premature deaths per year.

Reduce, reused and recycle packaging

MEPs also adopted new measures to make packaging more sustainable and reduce packaging waste in the EU.

The regulation, which aims to tackle constantly growing waste, harmonise internal market rules and boost the circular economy, was approved with 476 votes in favour, 129 against and 24 abstentions.

Targets are for 5% by 2030, 10% by 2035 and 15% by 2040, and require EU countries to reduce, in particular, the amount of plastic packaging waste.

To reduce unnecessary packaging, a maximum empty space ratio of 50% is set for grouped, transport and e-commerce packaging; manufacturers and importers will also have to ensure that the weight and volume of packaging are minimised.

Certain single use plastic packaging types will be banned from 1 January 2030. These include packaging for unprocessed fresh fruit and vegetables, packaging for foods and beverages filled and consumed in cafés and restaurants, individual portions such as condiments, sauces, creamer, or sugar, accommodation miniature packaging for toiletry products and very lightweight plastic carrier bags (below 15 microns).

Specific 2030 reuse targets are foreseen for alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages packaging – except e.g. milk, wine, aromatised wine, spirits – transport and sales packaging, as well as grouped packaging. Member states may grant a five-year derogation from these requirements under certain conditions.

Final distributors of beverages and take-away food will have to offer consumers the option of bringing their own container. They will also be required to endeavour to offer 10% of products in a reusable packaging format by 2030.

By 2029, 90% of single use plastic and metal beverage containers will have to be collected separately via deposit-return systems or other solutions that ensure the collection target is met.

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