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EU Law Regulating Single-use Plastic Products Published

On 12 June 2019, Directive 2019/904 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the reduction of the impact of certain plastic products on the environment was published in the Official Journal of the European Union. The new law is also known as the single-use plastics (SUP) Directive. The Directive will have a major impact on the future of the EU plastics market, as it imposes a range of obligations on manufacturers and importers of plastic products. It is important for Hong Kong sellers to understand how their businesses may be affected as the requirements of the Directive are phased in over the coming years.

The objective of the SUP Directive is to reduce the consumption of single-use plastic products and to incentivise recycling. This is achieved by measures ranging from outright bans on certain products to consumption reduction measures, extended producer responsibility obligations, product design requirements, labelling, and/or awareness raising measures in the case of others. As a consequence, producers will be subject to significant additional costs even for products which they can continue to market to consumers. As further explained below, whether and to what extent the consumption of a product will have to be reduced or other types of measures will have to be taken depends on which parts of the Directive’s Annex a product is listed in.

The scope of the Directive is limited to products which fall within the definition of “single-use plastic products” (SUPs). This definition covers products made either wholly or partly from plastic. Whether a product is classified as “single-use” depends on whether the product’s design suggests that the product can be re-filled and/or is intended for use more than once.

The Directive covers the following single-use products:

  • Beverage containers (including bottles) with a capacity of up to three litres;
  • Cups for beverages, including their covers and lids;
  • Food containers;
  • Packets and wrappers intended for food;
  • Plates, cutlery (forks, knives, spoons, chopsticks), straws and beverage stirrers;
  • Cotton bud sticks;
  • Plastic carrier bags;
  • Certain sanitary products and wet wipes;
  • Balloons and balloon sticks;
  • Tobacco products and filters.

In the Annex to the Directive, the products are sorted into different parts (from A to G), depending on the measures they are subject to. Each measure also falls under a different legal provision in the main body of the Directive. The type and scope of the different measures can thus be summarised as follows:

  • Part A – consumption reduction measures (Article 4): Applies to single-use food containers and cups for beverages. Member States must impose consumption reduction measures which achieve a measurable quantitative reduction in the consumption of these products. These measures must be “ambitious and sustained” but the type of measures is at the discretion of the Member States. The reduction is to be achieved by 2026 compared to 2022 levels.
  • Part B – prohibition of sales (Article 5): Applies to cutlery, plates, beverage stirrers, straws, balloon sticks and cotton bud sticks. The prohibition takes effect two years after the Directive enters into force, i.e. by 2021. The prohibition also applies to cups, food and beverage containers made from expanded polystyrene. In addition, Article 5 bans sales of products made from oxo-degradable plastics.
  • Part C – product requirements (Article 6): Beverage containers with a capacity of up to three litres must be designed to ensure that caps remain attached to the container during and after use by 2024. Furthermore, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles must contain at least 25% recycled plastic by 2025 and all single-use plastic bottles must contain at least 30% recycled plastic by 2030.
  • Part D – marking requirements (Article 7): Cups, certain sanitary products, wet wipes and tobacco products must be clearly labelled with the amount of plastic they contain as well as waste disposal instructions by 2021.
  • Part E – extended producer responsibility (EPR) (Article 8): Food containers, beverage containers with a capacity of up to three litres, cups, packets and wrappers, tobacco products, balloons, wet wipes, and plastic bags will be covered. EPR requires producers to take responsibility for the waste management of these products by 2024.
  • Part F – separate collection (Article 9): 77% of all bottles with a capacity of up to three litres sold in the same year must be collected by 2025, and 90% by 2029.  
  • Part G – awareness raising (Article 10): EPR will also include costs of measures that Member States will have to take to inform the public of the availability of reusable alternatives, re-use systems, and waste management options, as well as information on the impact of littering.

The Directive was published on 12 June 2019. Its provisions must be transposed into national law by the Member States in order to become applicable. The Directive specifies that the time period granted to Member States to finalise this transposition will be two years after the Directive comes into force, i.e. by 3 July 2021. Some measures will become applicable only after a transition period, i.e., even after 3 July 2021 (as noted in the bullet points above). Hong Kong sellers are advised to carefully examine the Directive in order to best evaluate when the measures relevant to them will enter into effect.

The European Commission is mandated to publish guidelines, including examples of what is to be considered a single-use plastic product for the purposes of the Directive, by 3 July 2020.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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