Plastic is a significant and growing global concern. A recent study commissioned by WWF and carried out by the University of Newcastle, Australia, suggests that people are consuming around 2,000 tiny pieces of plastic every week (which is approximately 5 grams of plastic, the weight of a credit card).

In this context, the EU adopted a new directive aiming at tackling marine litter generated from 10 single-use plastic products and from abandoned fishing gear and oxo-degradable plastics. This is called the Single-Use Plastics Directive and has entered into force this month, on 2 July 2019.

This new EU directive on single use plastics (hereinafter "SUP Directive") has entered into force on 2 July 2019.

This Directive applies to the following: single-use plastic products listed in the Directive’s Annex; products made from oxo-degradable plastic; and fishing gear containing plastic1.

And it lays down several measures that apply to those products.

These measures are:

Consumption reduction - Article 4

Member States will have to take necessary measures to reduce the use of some single-use plastics (these types of products are listed in Part A of the Annex). A measurable quantitative reduction in the consumption of those products, compared to 2022, must be achieved on the territory of the Member State by 2026.

The measures can include national consumption reduction targets, measures ensuring that re-usable alternatives to these listed products are made available at the point of sale to the final consumer, economic instruments such as instruments ensuring that those products are not provided free of charge at the point of sale to the final consumer, etc.

The targeted products include cups for beverages and food containers, i.e. receptacles such as boxes, with or without a cover, used to contain food which is intended for immediate consumption, either on-the-spot or take-away, is typically consumed from the receptacle, and is ready to be consumed without any further preparation, such as cooking, boiling or heating.

Restrictions on placing on the market - Article 5

Some single use plastic products (listed in Part B of the Annex) and products made from oxo-degradable plastic are banned altogether. The SUP Directive requires Member States to prohibit the placing on the market of those products.

These products include, for example, cotton-bud sticks (except if they fall within the scope of Council Directive 90/385/EEC or Council Directive 93/42/EEC relating to medical devices), cutlery (forks, knives, spoons, chopsticks), plates, straws (except if they fall within the scope of Directive 90/385/EEC or Directive 93/42/EEC relating to medical devices), beverage stirrers, etc.

Product requirements - Article 6

The SUP Directive requires each Member State to ensure that from 2025, beverage bottles listed in Part F of the Annex, which has polyethylene terephthalate as their major manufacturing component (also known as PET bottles), must contain at least 25% recycled plastic (and as from 2030: at least 30% recycled plastic).

Marking requirements - Article 7

Each single-use plastic product listed in Part D of the Annex must bear a marking on its packaging or on the product itself informing consumers of the following: the appropriate waste management options for the product or waste disposal means that should be avoided for that product and of the presence of plastics in the product, and the resulting negative impact that littering or other inappropriate means of waste disposal of the product could have on the environment.

These types of products include, for example, sanitary towels, tampons, wet wipes, tobacco products with filters, cups for beverages.

Extended producer responsibility - Article 8

The SUP Directive stipulates that producers of the products listed in Section I of Part E of the Annex must cover the costs of awareness-raising measures referred to in Article 10 of this Directive regarding those products; the costs of waste collection for those products that are discarded in public collection systems (including the infrastructure and its operation, and the subsequent transport and treatment of that waste) and the costs of cleaning up litter resulting from those products and the subsequent transport and treatment of that litter.

The intention is to shift the financial burden for the clean-up and recycling of these littered plastic items from the public sector (thus, the tax payers) and other private sector bodies, such as tourism and fisheries authorities, to the producers of these single-use plastic items.

The types of products concerned here are notably food containers, i.e., receptacles such as boxes, with or without a cover, used to contain food which is intended for immediate consumption, either on-the-spot or take-away, is typically consumed from the receptacle, and is ready to be consumed without any further preparation, such as cooking, boiling or heating, packets and wrappers made from flexible material containing food that is intended for immediate consumption, cups for beverages, etc.

Separate collection - Article 9

The SUP Directive sets targets for the separate collection for recycling of waste beverage bottles with a capacity of up to three litres by 2025, which is equal to 77% of such single-use plastic products placed on the market, in terms of weight, in a given year, and by 2029, 90% of such single-use plastic products placed on the market, in terms of weight, in a given year.

Awareness raising measures - Article 10

Member States must take measures to inform consumers and to incentivise responsible consumer behaviour in order to reduce litter from products covered by this Directive. They must also take measures to inform consumers of the single-use plastic products listed in Part G of the Annex and users of fishing gear containing plastic about the availability of re-usable alternatives, re-use systems, and waste management options; about the impact of littering and other inappropriate waste disposal of those single-use plastic products and of fishing gear containing plastic on the environment, especially on marine environment; and about the impact of inappropriate means of waste disposal of those single-use plastic products on the sewer network.

Transposition

Member States must bring into force by 3 July 2021 the laws, regulations, and administrative provisions necessary to comply with this Directive.

However, Member States have these deadlines to implement the specific, corresponding measures:

  • Article 5 (Restrictions on placing on the market): 3 July 2021
  • Article 6(1) (Product requirements): 3 July 2024
  • Article 7(1) (Marking requirements): 3 July 2021
  • Article 8 (Extended producer responsibility): 31 December 2024, but only in relation to extended producer responsibility schemes established before 4 July 2018. As regards the single-use plastic products listed in Section III of Part E of the Annex, the deadline is 5 January 2023.

1. Article 3 of the SUP Directive defines these terms as follows:

  1. 'single-use plastic product’ means a product that is made wholly or partly from plastic and that is not conceived, designed or placed on the market to accomplish, within its life span, multiple trips or rotations by being returned to a producer for refill or re-used for the same purpose for which it was conceived;
  2. ‘oxo-degradable plastic’ means plastic materials that include additives which, through oxidation, lead to the fragmentation of the plastic material into micro-fragments or to chemical decomposition;
  3. 'fishing gear’ means any item or piece of equipment that is used in fishing or aquaculture to target, capture or rear marine biological resources or that is floating on the sea surface, and is deployed with the objective of attracting and capturing or of rearing such marine biological resources.