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EU propose single-use plastics directive

13th August 2018

Martin Hyde

Earlier this year the EU released a proposed directive on the reduction of the impact of certain plastic products on the environment

What does this directive entail?

The directive itself is aimed at reducing the impact of the most common single-use plastic products found in the European seas and on Europe’s beaches. These 10 items are considered to represent 70% of all marine litter and are as follows: 

  • Food containers
  • Cups for beverages
  • Cotton bud sticks
  • Cutlery, plates, stirrers and straws
  • Sticks for balloons
  • Packets and wrappers
  • Beverage containers, their caps and lids
  • Tobacco product filters
  • Sanitary items
  • Lightweight plastic carrier bags
  • Fishing gear

Whilst these items cover a large distribution in terms of their origin market and customers, they are still, for the most part, avoidable as specifically single-use items. There is a list of measures proposed to minimise the usage of these items;

Plastic ban – Certain products (currently cotton buds, cutlery, plates, straws, drink stirrers and balloon sticks) are proposed to be banned from sale in EU markets when single-use. To clarify, these items would only be banned if they are single-use and composed of plastic.

Container requirements – Single-use plastic drinks containers will only be allowed to continue sale where their caps and lids remain attached post usage.

Consumption reduction – EU member states will be required to reduce their employment of single-use plastic containers and drink cups.

Producer obligations – Producers will be expected to help cover the costs of waste management of many of these items; this would likely be implemented through Extended Producer Responsibility Schemes.

Collection targets – EU member states would be required to collect 90% of single-use plastic bottles by 2025; Deposit Return Schemes have been suggested as a method to reach this figure.

Labelling - Certain items, for example sanitary products, will be required to display clear and standardised labelling of correct disposal practices.

Raising awareness – Measures will need to be taken by each member state to ensure consumers are aware of the re-use and waste management systems available for plastic items, as well as the damage that littering / improper disposal can cause to the environment.

Fishing gear – Fishing gear has its own measures. As it currently accounts for around 27% of beach litter, producer responsibility legislation will likely be used so that producers will pay for the collection and proper disposal costs of littered fishing gear.

 What does this mean for UK businesses?

The proposal is currently in review, meaning there is no guarantee it will enter EU law in its current manner. There will be continued debate as to the specifics of the directive up until it is entered into EU law. At this point it may become a part of UK waste legislation, but even if it doesn’t, UK businesses selling into EU member states will likely need to comply.

The proposal does present an opportunity for a further shift in consumer behaviour, backed by funding from producer responsibility schemes. Some member states have already taken steps which would support this directive, for example - consumer driven change in the UK may lead to single-use plastic straws being banned in the upcoming Waste and Resources Strategy.

We are entering a challenging time for environmental legislation as we move towards Brexit, however, a continued increase in public desire for minimised environmental impacts of the products we buy will hopefully drive sensible change backed by informed decision making.