Industry News

New rules on single-use plastics in EU aim to reduce marine litter

The Council of the European Union (EU) has adopted stringent measures proposed by the European Commission to tackle marine litter coming from the 10 single-use plastic products most often found on European beaches.

On May 21, the council agreed on these measures, which will also focus on the collection of abandoned fishing gear and oxo-degradable plastics.

The rules on single-use plastics items and fishing gear envisage different measures to apply to different product. The measures aim to not only minimise plastic pollution, but also encourage other countries to adopt similar rules.

European Commission first vice-president, Frans Timmermans, said there is a growing sense of urgency in European society to do whatever it takes to stop plastic pollution in oceans.

“The EU is responding to this clear call of our citizens. We have taken ambitious steps by introducing concrete measures to reduce the use of single-use plastics.

“The [rules] will help us to protect the health of our people and safeguard our natural environment, while promoting more sustainable production and consumption.

“We can all be proud that Europe is setting new and ambitious standards, paving the way for the rest of the world,” Timmermans said.

Where alternatives are easily available and affordable, single-use plastic products will be banned from the market, such as cutlery, plates and straws.

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

European Commission vice-president, Jyrki Katainen, said in a modern economy everyone has to reduce plastic litter and make sure most of the plastics used are recycled.

“More innovative and sustainable ways of production will bring new opportunities for European businesses, increasing their competitiveness, growth and job creation.

“Once implemented, the new rules will not only tackle plastic pollution, but also make the European Union the world leader in a more sustainable plastic policy, thus driving forward our circular economy,” Katainen said.

European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella, explained that despite being small objects, plastic straws and forks can make great, long-lasting damages.

“The single-use plastics legislation will address 70 per cent of marine litters items, avoiding environmental damage.

All in all, it’s European legislation at its best – responding to popular demand, benefiting the planet as well its inhabitants, and genuinely leading the world,” Vella said.

The new rules are proportionate and tailored to get the best results. This means different measures will be applied to different products. The new rules will introduce:

  • Aban 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 consumptionof 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 per cent separate collection target for plastic bottlesby 2029 (77 per cent by 2025) and the introduction of design requirements to connect caps to bottles, as well as target to incorporate 25 per cent of recycled plastic in PET bottles as from 2025 and 30% in all plastic bottles as from 2030.

Today’s decision by the Council of the EU will be followed by the publication of the texts in the Official Journal of the European Union. The Directive will enter into force 20 days after the publication.

The member states will then have two years to transpose the legislation into their national law.

Australia’s take on plastic reduction

While in Australia, initiatives to reduce plastics are targets rather than bans.

The 2025 National Packaging Waste Target in Australia builds on commitments made by Federal government, state and territory environment ministers, and the president of the Australian Local Government Association in early-2108 to set a sustainable path for Australia’s recyclable waste.

The 2025 national packaging waste targets are:
1. Aiming for 100 per cent of all Australia’s packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025,
2. A target towards 70 per cent of Australia’s plastic packaging to be recycled or composted by 2025,
3. 30 per cent average recycled content to be included across all packaging by 2025, and
4. Problematic and unnecessary single-use plastic packaging to be phased out through design, innovation or introduction of alternatives