The European Parliament has approved its draft directive on marine pollution and single-use plastics.  The announcement draws mixed reactions from industry associations and consumer bodies.

MEPS have backed a ban on a wide-ranging ban on single-use plastics with a 571-53 majority.

The EU-wide ban aims to target the ten single-use plastic products most often found on Europe's beaches and seas. The ban will apply to plastic cotton buds, cutlery, plates, straws, drink stirrers and sticks for balloons which will all have to be made exclusively from more sustainable materials instead. Single-use drinks containers made with plastic will only be allowed on the market if their caps and lids remain attached.

Where alternatives are readily available and affordable, single-use plastic products will be banned from the market. For products without straight-forward alternatives, the focus is on limiting their use through a national reduction in consumption; design and labelling requirements and waste management/clean-up obligations for producers.

European Bioplastics: Don’t compromise food safety

European Bioplastics, the European association representing the interests of the bioplastics industry along the entire value chain, supports the move towards a circular economy, but warns against compromising hygiene and food safety.

“European Bioplastics fully supports the transition from a linear to a circular economy. Bioplastics enable more sustainable solutions for a range of products“, says François de Bie, Chairman of European Bioplastics (EUBP).“

We agree on the importance of reducing single-use plastic products where feasible, but hygiene and food safety cannot be compromised. With regard to some of the concerned single-use products – such as e.g. plates and cutlery –, biodegradable certified compostable plastics provide an organically recyclable alternative“.

EUBP considers the Parliament’s decision to restrict the use of single-use cutlery and plates as not sufficiently considering the reality of food consumption in Europe. In certain closed-loop contexts, such as canteens, air travel, or sport and music events, these are an indispensable and efficient solution to guarantee safety and hygiene for food and drinks while ensuring at the same time waste collection and recycling.

Biodegradable certified compostable plastics fulfil Europe’s rigorous requirements and standards for health and safety and can be recycled organically together with the food waste.

EUBP fully supports the Parliament’s suggestion to restrict products made from oxo-degradable plastics, which is in line with earlier statements by the Parliament and the European Commission in the context of the EU Plastics Strategy.

Concerning biodegradability in the marine environment, EUBP stresses that it is an interesting property. However, it needs to be clearly defined for which materials, products and under which circumstances this property is of added value. Improving waste management on land and building efficient mechanical and organic recycling infrastructures across Europe remain a priority when it comes to fighting marine pollution.

Consumer Choice Centre: Are  alternatives actually better for the environment?

The Consumer Choice Center takes a more critical view by stating that the approval is bad news for European consumers.

Bill Wirtz, Policy Analyst for the Consumer Choice Center (CCC) says:

“90% of the Parliament just voted to ban a vast array of single-use plastic items, including oxodegradable plastics, and takeaway boxes and cups made of styrofoam, as well as straws, coffee stirrers balloon sticks and ear buds made of plastics. I’m fairly positive that those 90% did not investigate the evidence of whether alternative products are actually better on an environmental level.”

“Studies have shown that the unintended consequences of plastic bans can often be worse for the environment. Take the example of single-use plastic bags: cotton bags might appear more environmentally friendly, but if their re-use rates are too low - which they are, provenly, on average - then we actually end up using more resources," said Wirtz

“As for littering: the Parliament should find better measures to prevent littering from happening in the first place, instead of continuously outlawing items that are useful to consumers. With high littering fines, we should make perpetrators of this pollution pay for the damages caused," said Wirtz

“It should be up to consumers to decide what products they use. If you believe that plastic isn’t fantastic, that’s fine, but going on an uninformed craze against anything made out of plastic is neither rational nor productive." said Wirtz.

EUROPEN: Weakened policy coherence and inadequate examination

EUROPEN, the European organisation for packaging and the environment, says it supports measures that address the problem of plastic pollution effectively, that are harmonised and implementable by Member States and industry, but is concerned that certain elements of the EP Resolution adopted have not been adequately examined and might not achieve the SUP’s objectives.

“We regret the EP’s removal of the Internal Market safeguards for SUP measures that cover packaging items, as this will weaken policy coherence with other EU rules on waste and packaging. The Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive with its harmonised Essential Requirements should remain the sole appropriate legislation governing design and marking requirements applicable to all packaging, said Virginia Janssens, EUROPEN Managing Director.

She continued: “Likewise, the Waste Framework Directive should remain the sole, appropriate legal text to address producers’ extended responsibility, in line with nationally-defined roles and responsibilities of all concerned actors. Incentives should be placed on all value chain partners, based on what each actor can control, to ensure cost-effective results. This should be no different for measures related to litter clean-up”.

“For many years, the packaging supply chain has invested substantially in increasing separate collection and sorting for packaging waste, which helps avoid littering and helps circularity”, adds  EUROPEN Chairman Hans van Bochove.

He continued: “We see significant investment from producers in empowering consumers by contributing financially towards disposal and anti-littering awareness-raising campaigns, and by driving product, material and recycling innovation that support the transition to a circular economy. Legal clarity is essential to underpin these investments, but is lacking in this instance, for example with regard to which packaging falls under the SUP scope and which not. In addition, design requirements with significant impact such as the tethered caps proposal should be based on established facts and a thorough impact assessment.”

EUROPEN members from the plastics packaging supply chain have launched their corporate voluntary commitments on recycled content for plastics, as part of the EU pledging exercise aimed at achieving 10 million tonnes of recycled plastic by 2025. These public voluntary commitments on recycled content for plastics will help achieve the framework conditions for a more circular packaging value chain, such as the availability at competitive prices and quality of recycled plastics, essential among others to ensure food safety. The SUP proposal should support, not undermine, these important efforts.

EUROPEN calls on the EU’s co-legislators to take the time to evaluate carefully the real impacts of the legislative proposal on SUP to ensure it delivers the intended environmental objectives in a harmonised EU Internal Market. 

Not far-reaching enough?

On the other end of the spectrum, environmental campaigners claim that the ban does not go far enough.

Zero Waste Europe’s Product Policy Campaigner Ariadna Rodrigo said: “Plastic pollution goes far beyond a list of ten items. Although this legislation is a good first step, the lack of specific reduction targets for Member States is alarming. We call on the European Parliament and EU Ministers to put in place such targets and set a shorter review period to ensure an effective and swift move beyond single-use plastics.”