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EU Lawmakers Reach an Agreement over New Directive on Single-use Plastics

Single-use plastic products are defined as those made wholly - or partly - of plastic and those which are typically intended to be used just once - or for a short period of time - before they are thrown away. The following is a list of the products that will be banned in the EU as a result of the SUP Directive:

  • Plastic cutlery (forks, knives, spoons and chopsticks);
  • Plastic plates;
  • Plastic straws;
  • Expanded polystyrene food containers (fast food boxes, with or without a cover, used to contain food intended for immediate consumption either on-the-spot or take-away, and ready to be consumed without any further preparation, such as cooking, boiling or heating);
  • Beverage containers made of expanded polystyrene;
  • Cups for beverages made of expanded polystyrene;
  • Oxo-degradable plastic products (plastic materials which contain additives that promote oxidation of that plastic into micro-fragments under aerobic conditions. This type of plastic contributes to micro-plastic pollution in the environment, is not compostable and negatively affects the recycling of conventional plastic); and
  • Cotton bud sticks made of plastic.

Additionally, Member States are called upon to take the necessary measures to achieve a measurable quantitative reduction in the consumption of the following products:

  • Food containers made of plastic, such as fast food boxes, with or without a cover, used to contain food that is intended for immediate consumption either on-the-spot or take-away, and that is ready to be consumed without any further preparation, like cooking, boiling or heating; and
  • Plastic cups for beverages, including their covers and lids.

The SUP Directive is meant to bring about both environmental and economic benefits, such as for example:

  • Avoidance of the emission of 3.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide;
  • Avoidance of environmental damage which would cost the equivalent of €22 billion by 2030; and
  • Saving consumers a projected €6.5 billion.

The two EU institutions – the European Parliament and the Council – reached an agreement over the previously opposing positions regarding the binding character of the threshold for a minimum recycled content for newly produced plastic bottles. Accordingly, there will be a binding target of at least 25% of recycled plastic for newly produced plastic bottles from 2025 onwards. Furthermore, all plastic bottles must respect a target of at least 30% of recycled content by 2030.

In addition, there will be a 90% collection target in the case of plastic bottles. However, this requirement has been delayed by four years (when compared to the original European Commission proposal) from 2025 to 2029. That said, there is now a 77% midway benchmark for 2025 instead.

Pre-wetted personal care and domestic wipes (wet wipes), will need to bear a marking on their packaging informing consumers of the presence of plastic in the wet wipe and of the harm done to the environment in the event that they are not thrown in the bin.

With regard to producer responsibility, producers of tobacco with filters which contain plastic will be required to pay the costs for public collection systems for cigarette stubs. This payment includes the necessary infrastructure such as appropriate waste receptacles in common litter hotspots. Product development is expected to provide alternatives for filters containing plastic. Similar to the case of wet wipes, cigarettes and other tobacco products with plastic containing filters will need to bear a label on their packaging informing consumers about the presence of plastic and of the harm done to the environment if the cigarette stubs are thrown away elsewhere than in a waste bin.

The text provisionally agreed must be formally rubber-stamped by the European Parliament and the Council. Following such formal approval, the SUP Directive will be published in the Official Journal of the European Union. Member States will be given two years to transpose the Directive into law. This means that the bans would normally take effect in January or February 2021.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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