Providing clarity: EU announces 10 single-use plastics to be banned by 2021

Providing clarity: EU announces 10 single-use plastics to be banned by 2021

20 Dec 2018 --- Following months of negotiations, the European Parliament and the Council of the EU have reached a provisional agreement on ambitious new single-use plastic measures proposed in May, and identified the 10 types of single-use plastics that will be banned under the EU’s Plastics Strategy.

The provisional agreement reached must now be formally approved by the European Parliament and the Council. Following its approval, national governments will have until the end of 2021 to instate it.

The new Directive could be the most ambitious legal instrument at global level addressing marine litter. 

Included in the Directive, where alternatives are easily available and affordable, the following single-use plastic products will be banned from the market: Plastic cutlery (forks, knives, spoons and chopsticks), plastic plates, plastic straws, food containers made of expanded polystyrene, such as fast food boxes, cotton bud sticks made of plastic, beverage containers made of expanded polystyrene and products made from oxo-degradable plastic.

Oxo-degradable plastic refers to plastic materials which contain additives that promote oxidation of that plastic into micro-fragments under aerobic conditions. This type of plastic contributes to microplastic pollution in the environment, is not compostable and negatively affects the recycling of conventional plastic.

For other products, the focus is on limiting their use through a national reduction in consumption; on design and labeling requirements; and waste management and clean-up obligations for producers.

Rethink Plastic and Break Free From Plastic, an alliance of NGOs, note that although the agreement is significant, it does not go far enough.

According to the alliance, the agreement falls short of what is needed to tackle the global plastics crisis in key areas including: 

  • No binding EU-wide target to reduce the consumption of food containers and cups, and no obligation for EU countries to adopt targets;
  • A delay of four years on ensuring 90 percent of plastic bottles are collected separately – from 2025 to 2029.

The proposed Single-Use Plastics Directive follows a similar approach to the successful 2015 Plastic Bags Directive, which brought about a rapid shift in consumer behavior. The new measures hope to bring about both environmental and economic benefits, such as:

  • Avoiding the emission of 3.4 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent;
  • Avoiding environmental damages which would cost the equivalent of €22 billion (US$25 million) by 2030;
  • Saving consumers a projected €6.5 billion (US$7.5 billion).

“Tackling the plastics problem is a must. At the same time, it brings new opportunities for innovation, competitiveness and job creation. We will discuss those thoroughly with industry within the Circular Plastics Alliance. With the agreement reached today we are showing that Europe is doing a smart economic and environmental choice and is advancing towards a new truly circular plastics economy,” says Jyrki Katainen, Vice-President responsible for jobs, growth and investment and competitiveness at the European Commission.

When first announced, the proposed EU Directive on single-use plastics received a mixed response from the packaging industry.

The EU-level Trade Association for European Plastics Converters (EuPC) voiced dismay at the Directive, claiming that the proposal contained a definition of single-use products which was misleading and did not reflect industrial classification while causing fragmentation of the single market. 

The Rethink Plastic alliance of NGOs warned that packaging producers could simply market items such as throwaway plastic cups as reusable in order to avoid penalties

The alliance still has some criticism of the announced laws, but also supports the move:

“The EU deserves praise for being the first region to introduce new laws to reduce single-use plastics and slash plastic pollution in our fields, rivers and oceans. What’s less laudable is that the plastics lobby – backed up by some governments – was able to delay and weaken the ambition,” says Meadhbh Bolger, Resource Justice Campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe on behalf of Rethink Plastic.

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