Catherine Benson Wahlén
The European Parliament has approved a law to ban single-use plastic by 2021 in the EU. The ‘Single-Use Plastics Directive’ puts in place more responsibility for plastic producers and new recycling targets for EU member States.
The law recognizes plastic as “increasingly ubiquitous in everyday life,” and states that plastic’s growing use in short-lived applications “which are not designed for re-use or cost-effective recycling, means that related production and consumption patterns have become increasingly inefficient and linear.” The law describes the European Strategy for Plastics as a “step towards establishing a circular economy in which the design and production of plastics and plastic products fully respect reuse, repair and recycling needs and in which more sustainable materials are developed and promoted.” The law stresses the significant negative environmental, health and economic impact of certain plastic products, and calls for a specific legal framework to reduce these negative effects. It promotes circular economy approaches to contribute to achieving SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production), and calls for prioritizing sustainable, non-toxic reusable products and reuse systems. The law further recognizes that EU member States are required to tackle marine litter as a contribution to SDG 14 (life below water).
The law states that over 80 to 85 percent of marine litter is plastics, with single-use plastics representing 50 percent and fishing-related items representing 27 percent of the total. The plastic products covered under the new law represent 70 percent of all marine litter. The law will ban the following items: single-use plastic cutlery (chopsticks, forks, knives and spoons); single-use plastic plates; plastic straws; cotton bud sticks made of plastic; oxo-degradable plastics and food containers and expanded polystyrene cups; and plastic balloon sticks. Although the law does not include microplastics, the Directive recognizes the contribution of microplastics to marine litter, and states that the EU should adopt a comprehensive approach to address microplastics and encourage all producers to limit microplastics in their formulations.
The legislation will reduce the environmental damage bill by EUR 22 billion – the estimated cost of plastic pollution in Europe until 2030.
Under the new law, the EU will require member States to achieve a 90 percent collection target for plastic bottles by 2029 and 77 percent by 2025. The law also requires plastic bottles to contain at least 30 percent recycled content by 2030 and 25 percent recycled content by 2025. These measures aim to bring about a rapid shift in consumer behavior and achieve environmental and economic benefits, including avoiding the emission of 3.4 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2eq).
The law extends responsibilities to producers to clean up litter. Manufacturers of fishing gear, for example, and not fishermen, will be required to bear the costs of collecting fishing nets that are lost at sea. The law also requires industries to include labels that state that discarding products with plastics can have a negative environmental impact. For example, cigarette manufacturers will be required to place labels on cigarette products that state throwing cigarettes with plastic filters in the street has a negative consequence on the environment.
Lead MEP Frédérique Ries (Belgium) said the legislation “will reduce the environmental damage bill by EUR 22 billion – the estimated cost of plastic pollution in Europe until 2030.” She described the new legislation as a model for tackling marine pollution involving plastics.
In 2018, the European Commission launched an EU-wide campaign to raise awareness of proposed EU-wide rules targeting single-use plastics, in line with the proposed European Plastic Strategy, which has become the new law. Also in 2018, the leaders of the EU, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and the UK committed to five overarching actions to tackle ocean plastics in the ‘Ocean Plastics Charter.’ The Charter states leaders’ agreement to work with industry towards 100 percent reusable, recyclable or, when viable alternatives do not exist, recoverable plastics by 2030, among other actions.
Following the EC Parliament’s approval of the law, the Council of Ministers will finalize the final adoption. EU member States will then have two years to incorporate the legislation into their national law.