The EU bans the sale of disposable plastic products

    06 Jul 2021

    From July 3, disposable products made of plastic should completely disappear from sale in the European Union.

    This is provided by the EU directive banning plastic utensils adopted in 2019, the dpa news agency reports.

    The ban came into force on disposable spoons, forks, knives, plates, drinking straws, cotton swabs, sticks for stirring, and holding inflatable balloons.

    It is also no longer possible to sell disposable food and beverage containers made of foam.

    Entrepreneurs now have to move to alternatives from recyclable materials such as glass and metal.

    Plates and other utensils made of bio-based or biodegradable plastic will also be prohibited for sale. The rules are similar for disposable tableware made of paper, which contains a plastic layer or covered with plastic wrap.

    At the same time, disposable products that remain in warehouses are allowed to be resold.

    The ban, approved in 2019, affects disposable products such as single-use cutlery and plates, drinking straws, stirrers, cotton buds, and balloon wands made of plastic.

    Takeaway containers and beverage cups made of polystyrene are also no longer allowed to be put on the market. Traders are now obliged to use reusable alternatives made of glass or metal.

    The German Trade Association assumes that retailers would have to sell still large quantities”, but it does not have more precise figures.

    Disposable plates, cups, and cutlery made of organic materials or biodegradable plastics will also be banned. The same applies to disposable tableware made of cardboard, only a tiny part of the plastic or coated with plastic.

    The national implementation of the EU directive banning plastic tableware is the responsibility of the individual member states.

    According to a spokeswoman for the European Parliament, more reliable data on the status of implementation will only be available after the deadline of Saturday.

    In Germany, in addition to the ban on the items mentioned above, special labeling will also come into effect for disposable products for which there are no alternative offers yet. These include hygiene products, takeaway cups made of and with plastic, and cigarettes with plastic filters.

    The labeling is intended to warn consumers about the environmental damage caused by plastic and inform them about proper disposal.

    Five things to know about the EU single-use plastics ban

    The plastic food containers, coffee cups, and cutlery that came with all that take-away during lockdown are now off the table as the EU gives single-use plastics the bin.

    The great packaging purge has begun, DW states.

    Ten single-use plastic (SUP) products that for years have blighted Europe’s beaches will be largely banned from July 3 as the EU’s Single-Use Plastics Directive of 2019 comes into force.

    Plastic cotton bud sticks, cutlery, plates, straws, stirrers, balloon sticks, and polystyrene drinks, and food vessels cannot be sold as of Saturday. Also getting binned are oxo-degradable plastic bags that are marketed as biodegradable but which, according to the EU, break down into microplastics that long remain in the environment.  

    These disposable plastics make up around 70% of marine litter in Europe. Cafes and restaurants will now be forced to stock cups and straws made of bamboo, cellulose, or other biodegradable materials.

    But not all has been outlawed as part of the plastics reforms.

    SUP bags, bottles, beverage and food containers for immediate consumption, packets and wrappers, tobacco filters, sanitary items, and wet wipes will still instead be restricted. At the same time, producers will have to pay for the clean-up and institute awareness campaigns about their environmental impact.

    The end goal is an EU circular economy model via which any remaining disposable plastics will be reusable or recyclable by 2030.

    Here are five things to know about the EU’s plans for a plastic-free future.

    1. How the new plastic regime will be implemented 

    The EU Member States have drawn up their own laws to implement the Single-Use Plastics Directive. Some have even decided to add to the list of banned SUPs.

    As part of France’s ‘law on the circular economy and the fight against waste’ adopted in February 2020, most fruit and vegetable packaging will also be banned, as will plastic tea bags, confetti, and plastic toys offered as part of kids menus.

    In Germany, measures approved in Novemberadded EPS polystyrene food containers to the SUPs included in the directive.

    In Luxembourg, SUPs have been banned from being sold at festivals from July 3. In Greece, meanwhile, they’ve been outlawed from use in government agencies since February, the first ban of its kind.

    Other countries like Italy and Belgium are also introducing a plastics tax or levy to disincentivize the use of plastics.

    It might all appear haphazard, but in line with the European Green Deal, all EU member states must ultimately fall in line with a waste and pollution-free circular economy model in which any SUPs are sustainably reused and recycled by the end of the decade.

    2. Plastic drink bottles still allowed

    While the plastics directive deals with many throwaway plastic items that end up on Europe’s coasts, it does not ban some of the 1.3 billion plastic drink bottles that are sold daily around the world.

    Made of PET, these fossil-based plastic containers are, however, one of the few that can be recycled and used to make new bottles, packaging, or fibers. The problem remains that only 65% of PET bottles in Europe are collected for recycling, and the rest will take hundreds of years to decompose.

    The SUP directive sets a collection target of 90% recycling for PET bottles by 2029 (with an interim target of 77% by 2025). These bottles should also contain at least 25% recycled, as opposed to a virgin, plastic by 2025

    And manufacturers who sell PET bottles now also have more stringent accountability as part of the “extended producer responsibility” mandate included in the directive. Based on the “polluter pays” principle, producers will have to cover the cost of waste management clean-up and raise awareness about the environmental impact of the product and the most sustainable disposal methods.

    3. Some alternatives to plastic

    Natural polymers that have not been chemically modified are exempt from the directive. Any plastics created from modified natural polymers or fossil or synthetic feedstocks are effectively banned.

    The winners here will be a range of new sustainable materials that are not considered chemically modified. These include regenerated cellulose, which is used to create viscose, lyocell, and cellulosic films.

    The most abundant biopolymer on our planet, regenerated cellulose, is used to create a robust, transparent, and utterly biodegradable film or sheet essentially impervious to oils and greases. A long-used food packaging material before the introduction of oil-based plastics, cellulose is back.

    Meanwhile, biodegradable cotton bud sticks will typically be made from compostable bamboo, meaning they can be disposed of in regular organic waste. All that SUP cutlery is also likely to be replaced by entirely compostable, 100% biodegradable bamboo that is cheap and fast to grow.

    When implementing the SUP directive, countries like France and Belgium have banned the labeling of products as “biodegradable” because it can be a form of greenwashing that encourages packaging consumption.

    4. Cigarette butts also on the list

    Article 8 of the EU Single-Use Plastics Directive specifies that tobacco producers have to foot the bill to clean up cigarette butts containing plastic filters.

    Made with cellulose acetate, a polymer that breaks down in the environment very slowly, some 4.5 trillion butts are discarded annually, making it the most littered item on the planet.

    But the EU’s SUP directive is forcing producers to label the butts and packets to create awareness instead of an outright ban.

    Activists want plastic butts to simply be outlawed — which won’t happen until 2027, when the list of banned SUPs will be updated.

    In September 2020, anti-plastic campaigners collected 142,000 cigarette butts from streets across the Netherlands.

    “Communication campaigns do not solve the issue,” said Karl Beerenfenger from By the Ocean we Unite, which co-organized the clean-up. “We must change the product itself. Cigarette filters only serve as a marketing tool to sell more cigarettes. We want to get rid of the plastic cigarette filter altogether.”

    But so far, there are no plans to ban butts.

    Sustainable filters could be an interim solution. The company Green Butts is pitching its water dispersable filter to the EU Commission on social media, claiming its product biodegrades in days and is produced with sustainable natural fibers.

    5. ‘Pandemic plastics’ yet to be included

    The SUPs ban exempts medical-related plastics, including the masks and gloves that have become widespread during the pandemic. In addition to the many types of packaging made from long-lasting SUPs for these pandemic response products, these materials have ended up as waste on both lands and in marine environments, with potentially harmful impacts on ecosystems, according to the European Environment Agency (EEA).

    “Imports of face masks into the EU more than doubled compared with business as usual before the pandemic,” said the EEA. The increase happened while EU production was also increasing.

    With around 170,000 additional tons of these plastic-based face masks introduced into the EU during the first six months of the pandemic, calls are growing to find alternatives.

    But so far, pandemic plastics are not addressed by the new SUP rules: “Notably, the directive on single-use plastics does not even apply to single-use plastic products used in the health sectors, such as single-use gloves, gowns, and masks,” said Justine Maillot from Zero Waste Europe in a statement.

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