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European Parliament Votes on Proposed “Single Use Plastics” Directive

Hong Kong traders of disposable items such as single-use plastic cutlery, food containers, cups and balloons that are destined for the EU market will recall that on 28 May 2018, the European Commission presented its proposal for an SUP Directive aimed at achieving a significant alteration in the consumption of these products. Notably, this proposal envisages banning single use plastics for which alternatives are available on the market, such as cotton buds, cutlery, plates and straws.

In order for such a proposal to become binding EU law, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union (representing EU Member States’ governments) have to agree on the same amended text in the course of negotiations. Prior to this, each institution agrees internally on a list of amendments that constitutes its negotiating position.

Within the European Parliament, the Environment (ENVI) Committee was in charge of tabling amendments to the Commission’s proposal. The rapporteur, Ms. Frédérique Ries, proposed a draft report that was debated within the Committee on 29 August. The Committee finally agreed on a common position on 10 October 2018, and forwarded it to the European Parliament’s plenary session for final approval. This position was therefore debated and voted upon by all MEPs on 24 October 2018. The negotiations with the Council are due to start on 6 November.

The European Parliament’s position extends the scope of the original proposal. For example, it broadens the list of products to be banned under the future Directive, to include ultra-lightweight plastic bags, oxo-degradable plastics, and food containers made from expanded polystyrene. Furthermore, MEPs wish to make cigarette manufacturers subject to extended producer responsibility, in order for them to pay for the collection of cigarettes butts (i.e. plastic filters).

MEPs also aimed at more clarity pertaining to the extent of the costs to be borne by producers according to the extended producer responsibility and the “polluter pays” principle. For example, the European Parliament emphasised that the financial contribution for the collection of waste shall be based on guidelines published by the European Commission and should not exceed the costs that are necessary to provide a cost-efficient service.

As regards the cleaning up of litter (and costs associated thereto), the Parliament’s position is that the principle of proportionality must apply and in any case be limited to the activities undertaken on a regular basis by public authorities.

Within the Council, the liability for clean-up costs is also one of the most controversial issues at stake. EU environment ministers are soon expected to agree on a negotiating position that would fix a percentage of the costs for the clean-up of single use plastics litter to be levied on producers; the remainder of the costs being paid by public authorities. Also, so as to minimise administrative costs, the Council is expected to propose that Member States determine multi-annual fixed amounts corresponding to the financial contributions due by producers for the clean-up of litter.

While interinstitutional negotiations for a binding text that can be adopted into law have not yet started, some NGOs have already engaged in raising public awareness to influence the outcome of the discussions. For example, Green Peace is shedding more light on the significant costs associated with ocean clean-ups, and calls on EU co-legislators to include them within the scope of the future Directive. Also, this NGO has warned that the definition of “single-use” plastics could be modified in the course of the upcoming discussions under the influence of pro-industry lobbyists, who may try to add loopholes so as to allow producers to market their goods as reusable, and therefore escape the obligations enshrined in the future Directive.

For more information on and details of the European Commission’s initial proposal, please see "Certain Commonly Used Plastic Products to Be Banned, Others to Require Marking and Face Other Measures". Please click on the following for the negotiating position adopted by the European Parliament on 24 October 2018.

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