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Proposal Puts Forth Ban on Certain Single-use Plastic Products

On 30 April 2017, it came to light that there is to be a ban on plastics used in items such as cotton buds, straws, cutlery, plates, beverage stirrers and balloon sticks, a leaked EU draft legislative proposal has revealed. According to the leaked draft, this is part of an upcoming proposal on single-use plastics under the EU’s plastic strategy aimed at reducing plastic pollution.

The European Commission announced in January this year that it has adopted the first-ever Europe-wide strategy on plastics, as part of the EU’s transition towards a more circular economy. The aim of the strategy is to protect the environment from plastic pollution whilst fostering growth and innovation, thus aiming to turn a challenge into a positive agenda for the future of Europe.

It is felt, according to the Commission, that there is a strong business case for transforming the way products are designed, produced, used, and recycled in the EU.  

Following the January announcement, in February 2018 EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella undertook to put forth a legislative proposal restricting single-use plastics, with a view to fulfilment of one of the main aims of the EU’s new strategy on plastics. A draft of this legislative proposal on the reduction of the impact of certain plastic products on the environment has been leaked, detailing upcoming proposals which may be of interest to Hong Kong businesses exporting their goods, whether made of plastic, or packaged in plastic materials, to the EU.

The main objective of the leaked draft is the prevention and reduction of plastic marine litter of single-use plastic items and fishing gear. The Commission reports that about 80% to 85% of marine litter, measured as beach litter counts, is plastic, with single-use plastic items representing 50% and fishing-related items 27%. Bearing this in mind, the draft applies to “single-use plastic products”. Such product is defined as “a product made wholly or partly from plastic that is not conceived, designed and placed on the market to accomplish within its lifecycle multiple trips or rotations by being refilled or re-used for the same purpose for which it was conceived”. Additionally, the draft applies to fishing gear which contains plastic.

What may be of particular interest to Hong Kong sellers are the provisions relating to single-use plastics. Firstly, the leaked draft reveals that the Commission is to propose a ban on certain single-use plastic products including cotton buds, straws, cutlery, plates, beverage stirrers and balloon sticks. The Commission emphasises that there are suitable alternatives readily available for these products which are more sustainable.

Secondly, in relation to single-use plastic beverage containers, the draft requires that they are designed and manufactured so that their caps and lids remain attached to the container during the product’s use stage.

Thirdly, the leaked draft imposes labelling requirements for certain products. The draft requires products to be labelled informing consumers of the negative environmental impact of littering and other inappropriate disposal of waste.

Fourthly, the leaked draft applies the “polluter pays” principle to producers of plastics and extends producer responsibility schemes to cover the costs of waste management and clean-up of marine litter and of awareness-raising measures to prevent and reduce such litter.

Finally, the draft provides that EU Member States impose effective, proportionate and dissuasive penalties in order to prevent infringements.

The proposals contained in the leaked draft are likely to have an impact on the design and production of certain products originating in Hong Kong and exported to the EU. Therefore, Hong Kong businesses should be aware that these changes may be implemented in the not too distant future. The draft Directive is expected to be tabled by the end of May, after which it will have to go through the EU’s legislative process before adoption.

Moreover, in April of this year, the UK’s Prime Minister, Theresa May, announced a consultation on single-use plastics, which could lead to a ban being enforced on cotton buds, plastic drinking straws and other single-use plastics in the UK as early as 2019.

The actions of the European Commission and the UK government demonstrate a strong commitment to protecting the environment from plastic pollution, and Hong Kong’s manufacturing sector exporting to the EU should know that the strategy will continue to transform the way products are designed, produced, used, and recycled in the EU.

Please click on the following for the text of the draft legislative proposal.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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