With the amount of harmful plastic litter in oceans and seas growing ever greater, the European Commission (EC) is proposing new rules for the European Union (EU) to target the 10 single-use plastic products most often found on Europe’s beaches and seas. The proposed 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. In addition, single-use drinks containers made with plastic will only be allowed on the market if their caps and lids remain attached.
The new rules are proportionate and tailored to get the best results, which means different measures will be applied to different products. 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 labeling requirements and waste management/clean-up obligations for producers.
After addressing plastic bags in 2015, 72% of Europeans said they have cut down on their use of plastic bags. The EU is now turning its attention to the 10 single-use plastic products and fishing gear that together account for 70% of the marine litter in Europe. The new rules will introduce:
- Consumption reduction targets: Member States will have to reduce the use of plastic food containers and drinks cups. They can do so by setting national reduction targets, making alternative products available at the point of sale, or ensuring that single-use plastic products cannot be provided free of charge.
- Obligations for producers: Producers will help cover the costs of waste management and cleanup, as well as awareness-raising measures for food containers, packets, and wrappers; drinks containers and cups; tobacco products with filters (such as cigarette butts); wet wipes; balloons; and lightweight plastic bags. The industry will also be given incentives to develop less polluting alternatives for these products.
- Collection targets: the Member States will be obliged to collect 90% of single-use plastic drinks bottles by 2025, for example through deposit refund schemes.
- Labeling requirements: Certain products will require a clear and standardized labeling which indicates how waste should be disposed of, the negative environmental impact of the product, and the presence of plastics in the products.
- Awareness-raising measures: the Member States will be obliged to raise consumers’ awareness about the negative impact of littering of single-use plastics and fishing gear as well as about the available re-use systems and waste management options for all these products.
The Commission’s proposals will now go to the European Parliament and Council for adoption.