June 12, 2020

Single-use Plastics: New EU Rules to Reduce Marine Litter

Have you ever imagined, what is our life like without plastic?

Background

Plastic is an important and ubiquitous material in our economic and daily lives. It is being used in multiple ways, helping to tackle a number of the challenges faced by our society. Light and innovative materials in cars or planes save fuel and cut CO2 emissions. High-performance insulation materials help us save on energy bills. In packaging, plastics help ensure food safety and reduce food waste. Combined with 3D printing, bio-compatible plastic materials can save human lives by enabling medical innovation.

Over the past 50 years, global production and consumption of plastics have increased more than 20 times over, going from 15 million tonnes in 1964 to 311 million tonnes in 2014. According to estimates, the number will double again over the next 20 years. With the mass production and consumption of plastics, its negative impacts have drawn more and more public attention. Plastic is a persistent material, and often contains toxic chemicals. The harm caused by plastic vastly outweighs the benefits it brings to society, and the profits cashed in by companies will never compensate the damage caused by plastic pollution.

In the EU, the potential for recycling plastic waste remains largely unexploited. According to statistics, around 25.8 million tonnes of plastic waste are generated in Europe every year, in which over 50% comes from packaging. What is more, only less than 30% of such waste is collected for recycling. Another statistics provided by European Commission show that, more than 80% of marine litter is plastics. Due to its slow rate of decomposition, plastic accumulates in seas, oceans and on beaches in the EU and worldwide. Plastic residue is found in marine species – such as sea turtles, seals, whales and birds, but also in fish and shellfish, and therefore in the human food chain.

Introduction of the SUP Directive

As the plastic pollution crisis calls for urgent measures, the European Commission has identified the work on plastics as a key priority for the EU Circular Economy. In December 2015, the Commission adopted an EU Action Plan, identifying plastics as a key priority and committed itself to ‘prepare a strategy addressing the challenges posed by plastics throughout the value chain and taking into account their entire life-cycle’. In 2018, the European Commission proposed The Single Use Plastic Directive as an integral part of the wider approach announced in the Plastic Strategy, and an important element of the Circular Economic Plan.

According to the proposed legislation, single-use plastic items such as plates, cutlery, straws, balloon sticks, cotton buds, products made of oxo-degradable plastics or expanded polystyrene, will be banned from the EU market from 2021. The consumption of several other items, for which no alternative exists, will have to be reduced by member states by least 25% by 2025. This includes single-use burger boxes, sandwich boxes or food containers for fruits, vegetables, desserts or ice creams. Other plastics, such as beverage bottles, will have to be collected separately and recycled at a rate of 90% by 2025. The legislation received 560 MEPs voted in favour, 35 against and 28 abstained.

Quote

Lead Member of the European Parliament Frédérique Ries said: “This legislation will reduce the environmental damage bill by €22 billion – the estimated cost of plastic pollution in Europe until 2030. Europe now has a legislative model to defend and promote at international level, given the global nature of the issue of marine pollution involving plastics. This is essential for the planet.”

Sources

https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/MEMO_18_3909

https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20190321IPR32111/parliament-seals-ban-on-throwaway-plastics-by-2021

https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20181018IPR16524/plastic-oceans-meps-back-eu-ban-on-throwaway-plastics-by-2021

https://rethinkplasticalliance.eu/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/ZWE_Unfolding-the-SUP-directive.pdf

https://ec.europa.eu/environment/circular-economy/pdf/plastics-strategy-brochure.pdf