EU SUPD enters into force: NGOs concerned plastic ban underserves DRS and reusable models
06 Jul 2021 --- The EU Single-Use Plastics Directive (SUPD) may be an ambitious piece of legislation, but it does not go far enough in addressing throwaway culture, according to various environmental organizations.
Many NGOs argue banning plastic will not put an end to overall packaging pollution, but rather invite legislative loopholes.
“The SUPD was a good first step. Now, the EU needs to shift from telling us ‘what not to do’ to nudging us to do the right thing,” stresses Henriette Schneider, circular economy expert at Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH; German Environment Action).
PackagingInsights speaks with experts from DUH, Changing Markets Foundation and the Rethink Plastic Alliance about poorly implemented deposit return schemes (DRS) and underutilized reusable packaging models.
Legislative fault lines
As of July 3, EU Member States must prohibit the sale of single-use plastic cotton bud sticks, straws, plates, balloon sticks and cutlery as well as food containers, beverage containers and beverage cups made of expanded polystyrene (EPS).
“The Directive focused solely on single-use plastic products,” says Schneider. “Many restaurant owners are now looking for other cheap and easy single-use solutions. That trend needs to be stopped.”
Meanwhile, Justine Maillot, policy coordinator at the Rethink Plastic Alliance, views the Directive’s inclusion of conventional plastics and bio-based, biodegradable and compostable plastics as critical. “So-called ‘bioplastics’ are not a solution to plastic pollution,” she warns.
“However, the fact that the European Commission’s SUPD guidelines exclude viscose and cellophane from the scope is likely to lead to regrettable substitution, enforcement difficulties and consumer confusion.”
PackagingInsights has investigated industry concerns over the SUPD’s definitions of “plastics.” In January, Symphony Environmental Technologies took legal action against the EU over the definition of “oxo-biodegradable.” More recently, BFG Packaging questioned the definition of “expanded polystyrene” while Sulapac scrutinized what constitutes “chemically modified polymers.”
As single-use plastic items are ushered out, paper substitutions are making their way to the front stage. Yesterday’s coverage looked at how the fiber packaging sector is capitalizing on the EU’s shift away from single-use plastics.
Furthermore, Innova Market Insights positioned “The Fiber-Based Frenzy” as its third top packaging trend for 2021. Notably, a European Paper Packaging Association Life Cycle Assessment found paper-based, single-use products are more environmentally responsible than reusable tableware in European quick-service restaurants.
However, DUH is concerned the SUPD will encourage a shift toward other harmful single-use materials. Schneider maintains there are “no environmentally-friendly single-use alternatives” for plates, cups, straws and forks.
For example, paper production contributes to deforestation and consumes high amounts of water and energy. Meanwhile, aluminum production requires large areas of land for bauxite mining and resource-exhaustive transportation.
“All of that is not the answer. [Packaging waste] legislation should not focus on one material, but have a more holistic, systemic approach,” Schneider asserts.
Reusables are viable
Instead of using single-use packaging made from any material, several environmental organizations, including Break Free From Plastic and Searious Business, advocate for reusable packaging models.
“We are facing a massive waste crisis because we have been focused on a linear, throwaway economy for way too long. The truly sustainable solutions, like reusable packaging, need to be promoted,” says Schneider.
personal care sector, grocery stores and quick-service industry.There are practical reusable packaging systems “for everything,” she highlights. A few examples stem from the
“By relying on those sustainable alternatives instead of constantly producing new throwaway packaging, we can not just prevent waste, but create sustainable local jobs, conserve resources and mitigate climate change.”
Bring back the bottles
Nusa Urbancic, campaigns director at Changing Markets Foundation, identifies reuse innovation as the “true solution” to the plastic crisis.
“I strongly believe that on refill we have some low hanging fruit, namely the introduction of refill targets for beverages, especially in combination with DRS,” she underscores.
According to the SUPD, PET bottles must contain at least 25 percent recycled content by 2025, increasing to 30 percent by 2030. In a 2020 interview with PackagingInsights, Schneider explained that without DRS, it will be “almost impossible” for EU Member States to reach this target.
Moreover, Article 9 determines Member States shall take the necessary measures to ensure a 90 percent separate collection rate for plastic bottles by 2029. The critical wording is that Member States “may” establish DRS, implying they are voluntary.
“We see two problems with this,” says Urbancic. On the one hand, she notes weak potential implementation from the European Commission’s guidance. On the other hand, implementing DRS could be delayed or undermined by Member States.
Changing Markets Foundation’s research suggest big retailers – beverage producers and national green dot organizations, like Ecoembes, a representative of major FMCG companies like Coca-Cola, Danone and Unilever – have been lobbying against the introduction of DRS.
“This means we will need years, which will cost taxpayers a lot of money. In Spain, managing the litter from beverage containers costs taxpayers more than €500 million (US$591million) every year and also creates a lot of unnecessary pollution,” explains Urbancic.
Schneider adds that businesses want legislative clarity to know how to invest. “Binding reuse targets provide investment security and are therefore necessary for reuse to become the norm.”
“But reuse must have an economic benefit beyond that,” she adds. “The production and marketing of single-use packaging is still way too cheap. The ecological benefit of reusables must be reflected financially.”
New horizons with PPWD
Reducing plastic packaging pollution does not have to stop at the SUPD. “Further EU legislation is needed to address plastic pollution, as the SUPD only covers products and packaging most commonly found in the environment, notably the marine environment,” says Maillot.
Echoing this view, Urbancic advocates for stronger policies on chemicals, while hoping the upcoming EU textile strategy will address microplastic pollution.
Moreover, the upcoming revision of the EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD) is “an opportunity to make reuse the new normal,” affirms Maillot.
The latest amendment to the Directive contains updated measures to:
- Prevent the production of packaging waste, and;
- Promote the reuse, recycling and other forms of recovering of packaging waste, instead of its final disposal.
Among other rules, by the end of 2024, EU countries should ensure that producer responsibility schemes are established for all packaging.
Schneider affirms the European Commission should ensure waste prevention and reuse targets are binding in the current PPWD revision, as well as financial incentives and targeted economic support for innovation.
“How can we know where we are going and what our goal is without targets? How should we measure our success? We also have targets for emission reductions, for example. It is quite obvious that we need the same thing to solve the enormous waste crisis we are facing,” she stresses.
“With an ambitious revision of the PPWD that complements what has already been achieved with the SUPD, the EU can lead by example, champion waste prevention and reuse as the real answers to the global plastic crisis.”
By Anni Schleicher
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