EU policy proposal cracks down on single use plastics

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

Picture: Getty/Roman Babakin
Picture: Getty/Roman Babakin

Related tags Plastic Recycling Waste European commission

The European Commission has proposed rules to cut use of single use plastics including a ban on cutlery, straws and drink stirrers and reduced use of food containers and drinks cups.

The proposal focuses on the 10 single-use plastic items most found on European beaches.

It includes different policy measures from bans and reductions, to labelling and extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes.

Environmental groups welcomed the plans but industry warned bans are not the solution.

The Commission said having one set of rules for the EU market will help companies be more competitive in the global marketplace for sustainable products.

The Single Use Plastics Directive​ aims to reduce littering by more than half for the 10 single use plastic items and claims it will avoid environmental damage of €223bn by 2030.

Banned products

Ten most found plastic waste items on Europe’s beaches

Cotton buds; cutlery, plates, straws & stirrers; food containers; sticks for balloons and balloons; cups for beverages; beverage containers; bags; cigarette butts; crisp packets/sweet wrappers and wet wipes and sanitary items

Where alternatives are available and affordable, single-use plastic products will be banned from the market.

The ban will apply to plastic cotton buds, cutlery, plates, straws and drink stirrers which will have to be made from ‘more sustainable’ materials instead.

Single-use drinks containers made with plastic will be allowed if their caps and lids remain attached.

Plans will now go to the European Parliament and Council for discussion in the coming months. A public consultation is open to stakeholders until 23 July.

First VP Frans Timmermans, responsible for sustainable development, said the Commission promised to focus on big issues and leave the rest to member states.

colored bottles with straws - pinkomelet
Picture: iStock/pinkomelet

“Plastic waste is undeniably a big issue and Europeans need to act together to tackle this problem, because plastic waste ends up in our air, our soil, our oceans, and in our food. We will ban some of these items, and substitute them with cleaner alternatives so people can still use their favourite products."

Reduction plans

The proposals outline a number of options for products without straightforward alternatives.

Member states will have to reduce use of plastic food containers and drinks cups by setting national reduction targets, making alternatives available at sale or ensuring single-use plastic products are not free of charge.

Producers will help cover costs of waste management and clean-up as well as awareness for food containers, packets and wrappers (such as crisps and sweets), drinks containers and cups and lightweight plastic bags.

Member states will also be obliged to collect 90% of single-use plastic drinks bottles by 2025.

VP Jyrki Katainen, responsible for jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness, added it will help extract more economic value from limited resources. 

"Single use plastics are not a smart economic or environmental choice, and [the] proposals will help business and consumers to move towards sustainable alternatives. Our collection target for plastic bottles will also help to generate the necessary volumes for a thriving plastic recycling industry."

A focus on plastic

More than 40 businesses pledged to reduce plastic packaging waste​ in the UK by 2025 last month.

Retailers Iceland and Ekoplaza and tea brand Teapigs are to add a plastic-free logo designed by A Plastic Planet​ to selected products later this year.

Failure to set specific reduction targets

Environmental groups said the legislation fails to set specific EU-wide reduction targets for food containers and beverage cups, with a promise to look into this only after six years.

Rethink Plastic said this could result in countries claiming they are taking the necessary steps as long as any size of reduction is achieved.

The coalition includes Client Earth, ECOS, EEB, the Environmental Investigation Agency, Friends of the Earth Europe, Seas at Risk, Surfrider Foundation Europe and Zero Waste Europe.

Speaking for the group, EIA’s Sarah Baulch said: “Phasing out unnecessary single-use plastic applications and those for which a sustainable alternative is already available is key to ensure a responsible use of plastics.”

Zero Waste Europe’s product policy campaigner Ariadna Rodrigo said: “Plastic pollution goes far beyond a list of 10 items. Although this legislation is a good first step, the lack of specific reduction targets for member states is alarming.”

Lasse Gustavsson, Oceana Europe executive director, said the only way to stop plastic in the oceans is to look at the source: production.

By reducing the amount of unnecessary plastic we produce, we can make a real difference to the global marine litter crisis. The proposed banshould, however, stretch to all single-use plastic products throughout the European Union.

European Green Party co-chairs Monica Frassoni and Reinhard Bütikofer said a consistent response was needed to tackle plastics at production and waste management level.

“The scale of the problem means that we cannot rely on individual European countries to take action and must instead find a Europe-wide response.

“The move to cut plastics is likely to receive strong backing in the European Parliament and we urge member countries to follow suit and back the proposals. But, executive action alone is not enough. We need a grassroots citizen’s movement capable of stepping in and driving change.”

Reaction: Plastic product bans not the solution

plastic bottle production line
Picture: iStock

FoodDrinkEurope said it believes preventing litter should be the cornerstone of a policy approach.

“This needs to be taken forward through a comprehensive, shared and holistic approach to education, infrastructure and law enforcement instead of requesting member states to establish EPR schemes for certain packaging items covering the costs of litter clean ups.”

PlasticsEurope, an association representing plastic manufacturers, called for the focus to be on improving waste management.

We therefore urge the European Commission to avoid shortcuts – plastic product bans are not the solution and will not achieve the structural change needed to build the foundation for a sustainable and resource efficient economy; as alternative products may not be more sustainable.”

The IK Industrievereinigung Kunststoffverpackungen e. V. (German Association for Plastics Packaging and Films) slammed the proposed ban on selected plastic products.

IK said roughly 80% of plastic waste in the oceans is generated by Asian countries, 0.02% from Germany and about 1% from Europe.

Dr Jürgen Bruder, managing director, said the move overturns the approach by the Commission in the Plastics Strategy at the start of the year.

“Instead of truly sustainable collection and recovery solutions, resource efficiency and raising customer awareness of sustainable consumption and environmentally responsible handling of unavoidable waste, we are now seeing unnecessary political gesturing,” ​he said.

The association said bans do not lead to an understanding of sustainable consumption and environmentally conscious behaviour.

“If it has become a widespread trend to eat and drink when we’re out and about, we should be reinforcing the sustainable solutions already on offer for this – without discriminating against certain materials right from the start​. After all, such bans can also lead people to fall back on materials which are ultimately even more harmful in ecological terms,”​ said Bruder.

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