Single-use plastics, the proposed EU directive

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Single-use plastic items (cutlery, plates, straws, beverage stirrers) are finally considered in a proposed directive adopted by the European Commission on 5/28/18. Pending its consideration by the Strasbourg Parliament and the Council, some notes.

Single-use plastics, the UAS directive

The draft directive SUP, Single Use Plastics, aspires to drastically reduce the use of plastic articles intended for single use. With ten articles and several technical annexes, still the subject of animated consultations by the Brussels Services with industry representatives.

The current model of production and consumption is not sustainable, the foreword states:

– ‘The relatively high functionality of plastic combined with its low cost have made the material increasingly popular in everyday life,

its increasing use in short-lived applications that are not designed for reuse or recycling imply that the relevant production and consumption patterns have become inefficient‘.

Instead, thecircular economy is the necessary paradigm toward which to move, before humans and animals finally drown in plastics and microplastics.

Worldwide, plastics account for 85 percent of marine litter. In the form of microplastics, they are also present in the air, water and food and therefore reach our lungs and our tables, with as yet unknown health effects. Addressing the plastics problem is a necessity, which can open up new opportunities for innovation, competitiveness and employment‘ (European Commission, press release 28.5.18)

Some objects should be permanently excluded from the European market (e.g., disposable plastic plates and cutlery). Others come subject to, at the very least, specific design and labeling requirements(e.g., bottles).

Karmenu Vella – European Commissioner for Environment, Fisheries and Maritime Affairs – had announced the legislative proposal in Malta, on 27.4.18 . ‘We will renew our commitment to prevent plastic waste such as bottles, cutlery, cups and lids from entering our environment.’

Member states will then be responsible for deciding ‘how to achieve a significant reduction’ in the consumption of these products, with a view to achieving the targets set at the EU level.

SUP directive, the fate of various objects

Disposable cups and rigid ready-to-eat food containers (with or without lids) should be subject to targets for drastic use restriction, within a 6-year horizon. Member states will be able to set appropriate reduction targets or prohibit them from being offered free of charge.

Instead, plastic beverage bottles should be made so that the caps remain attached to the collar, to prevent autonomous leakage. Member states will have to achieve a collection target of 90 percent, by 2025, with the possibility of using deposit-deposit systems.

In summary, the outline provides the following:

– Total marketing ban for disposable plastic plates and cutlery (forks, knives, spoons, chopsticks), straws and drink stirrers, cotton swabs,

– National measures to reduce the use of ‘single use‘ plastic packaging for food (e.g., fast food, takeout) and beverages (e.g., disposable cups),

– responsibility of producers (who will contribute to cover the costs of waste management and cleanup, as well as awareness measures) for cups and their lids, food and beverage containers, flexible packaging and wrappers for food for immediate consumption (e.g., chips and candy), light bags, cigarette butts, and balloons.

The European Parliament, through the voices of a number of MEPs sensitive to the issue, clarified that ”the proposal to ban single-use products such as straws and cutlery is welcome, as are reduction targets for food containers and plastic cups. What is lacking, however, is concrete action on hazardous chemicals found in many plastic items.’

National Institutions should finally learn a lesson from the Italian case of ‘


fruit and vegetable bags for a fee






. A controversy sparked a few months ago under the previous government that could have been avoided with a proper information campaign.

Environmental protection is in fact primarily related to the daily habits of citizens, for whom special campaigns to educate them to respect nature should be targeted. For waste reduction but also for proper waste management, which in turn is the subject of a major European reform (the so-called circular economy package).

Dario Dongo

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.