The European Parliament recently agreed on the ambitious measures proposed by the European Commission to ban selected single-use products made of plastic as well as introduce extended producer responsibility (EPR) for new products.

The new rules are an attempt to lesson marine pollution by plastic and abandoned fishing gear and oxo-degradable plastics.

Once the rules are in place, cotton bud sticks, cutlery, plates, straws, stirrers, sticks for balloons that are made of plastic will be banned in the European Union (EU).

The new rules also ban cups, food and beverage containers made of expanded polystyrene and on all products made of oxo-degradable plastic. Oxo-degradable plastics are made of petroleum-based polymers(usually polyethylene (PE)) that contain additives (usually metal salts), which accelerate their degradation when exposed to heat and/or light. The argument for banning oxo-degradable plastics is that they are similar to conventional plasticmaterials but have artificial additives. They do not actually biodegrade but merely fragment into small pieces and potentially harm the environment and endanger recycling and composting operations.

While often confused with biodegradable plastics, oxo-degradables are a category unto themselves. They are neither a bioplastic nor a biodegradable plastic, but rather a conventional plastic mixed with an additive in order to imitate biodegredation.

The new rules include EPR schemes for cigarette filters and fishing gear.
Producers of cigarettes with filters (the filters are not biodegradable) will help cover the costs of waste management and clean-up. Producers of plastic fishing gear will be required to cover the costs of waste collection from port reception facilities and its transport and treatment. They will also cover the costs of awareness-raising measures.  Producers will also be given incentives to develop less polluting alternatives for these products

Single-use drinks containers made with plastic will only be allowed on the market if their caps and lids remain attached. Also, the diversion target for plastic bottles was set at 90% by 2025. One method to achieve the high diversion rate is deposit refund schemes.

The rules on Single-Use Plastics items and fishing gear, addressing the ten most found items on EU beaches place the EU at the forefront of the global fight against marine litter. They are part of the EU Plastics Strategy – the most comprehensive strategy in the world adopting a material-specific lifecycle approach with the vision and objectives to have all plastic packaging placed on the EU market as reusable or recyclable by 2030. The Single-Use Plastics Directive adopted by the European Parliament today is an essential element of the Commission’s Circular Economy Action Plan as it stimulates the production and use of sustainable alternatives that avoid marine litter.

Vice-President Jyrki Katainen, responsible for jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness, added: “Once implemented, the new rules will not only prevent plastic pollution, but also make the European Union the world leader in a more sustainable plastic policy. The European Parliament has played an essential role in laying the foundation for this transformation and in giving a chance to the industry to innovate, thus driving forward our circular economy.”

The Single-Use Plastics Directive voted on by the European Parliament today tackles directly marine litter thanks to a set of ambitious measures:

  • A ban on selected single-use products made of plastic for which alternatives exist on the market: cotton bud sticks, cutlery, plates, straws, stirrers, sticks for balloons, as well as cups, food and beverage containers made of expanded polystyrene and on all products made of oxo-degradable plastic.
  • Measures to reduce consumption of food containers and beverage cups made of plastic and specific marking and labelling of certain products.
  • Extended Producer Responsibility schemes covering the cost to clean-up litter, applied to products such as tobacco filters and fishing gear.
  • A 90% separate collection target for plastic bottles by 2029 (77% by 2025) and the introduction of design requirements to connect caps to bottles, as well as target to incorporate 25% of recycled plastic in PET bottles as from 2025 and 30% in all plastic bottles as from 2030.

The proposed Directive follows a similar approach to the successful 2015 Plastic Bags Directive, which brought about a rapid shift in consumer behavior. The EU claims that , when implemented, the new measures will bring about both environmental and economic benefits. The economic benefits claimed by the new rule implementation include €22 billion in avoidance of environmental damage by 2030 and €6.5 billion to consumers in savings in the form of reduced waste treatment by public authorities.

Next steps

Following this approval by the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers will finalise the formal adoption. This endorsement will be followed by the publication of the texts in the Official Journal of the Union. The Member States will then have two years to transpose the legislation into their national law.