Since 03 July 2021, certain single-use plastic products may no longer be marketed in Germany. Affected are, for example, provided that they are made of (certain) plastics, many of the popular "take away" products such as food packaging or associated cutlery, but also straws.

In particular, manufacturers and importers of the aforementioned products (including franchisors and master franchisees) should address the issue as soon as possible and identify whether they are affected by the directive at all and, if so, for which products they must seek alternatives. However, there is no need for action for single-use plastic products that have already been placed into the European supply chain for sale before 03 July 2021 as the ban only concerns products to be placed on the market for the first time after that date. Thus, single-use plastic products already on the market may still be sold to customers.

In detail: Directive (EU) 2019/904 provides for the prohibition of certain (single-use) plastic products. This European framework law had to be implemented throughout the European Economic Area. In Germany, the directive has been implemented by the Single-Use Plastic Ban Ordinance - EWKVerbotsV. It came into force on 03 July 2021.

The ban covers (i) "single-use plastic products" and (ii) those products that are made of oxo-degradable plastic: The latter are plastic products that are easily decomposable through oxidation (for example, by UV light), which particularly contribute to an increase in microplastics in the world's oceans. Not affected by the ban are "biodegradable" plastics, which differ from oxo-degradable plastics insofar as biodegradable plastics are completely broken down into their original components in the degradation process, and microplastics are not created in the process.

More relevant for the market is the ban on single-use plastic products. As the name implies, only products intended by the manufacturer for single use are subject to the ban. As the intended use is decisive, it does not matter how the user or customer (regularly) uses the product, as for example whether he uses it several times. The products affected by the ban are:

  • Cotton bud sticks - Medical devices are not affected,
  • Cutlery, especially forks, knives, spoons and chopsticks,
  • Plates,
  • Straws - Medical devices are not affected,
  • Beverage stireers,
  • Balloon sticks attached to balloons for stabilization, including their respective holding mechanisms for delivery to consumers,
  • Expanded polystyrene food containers, which are containers, such as boxes with or without lids, for food that is
    • intended to be consumed immediately on site or to be taken away for consumption,
    • is typically consumed from the receptacle, and
    • is ready to be consumed without any further preparation, such as cooking, boiling or heating; including food containers used for fast food or other meal ready for immediate consumption, except beverage containers, plates and packets and wrappers containing food;,
  • Beverage containers made of expanded polystyrene including their closures and lids, and
  • Beverage cups made of expanded polystyrene including their covers and lids.

Regarding the last three product groups, they ony fall under the ban if made of "expanded polystyrene". Expanded polystyrene is most often "foamed" packaging material, the best-known representative of which is probably "Styrofoam". For production, granulate is filled into a mold and foamed by means of hot steam. The granules stick together, but usually do not melt completely. The granules are thus often recognizable in the end product. Sometimes even individual "pellets" can be separated - quite undesirable, considering the tedious disposal of Styrofoam at the recycling center, for example. Due to its water resistance and simultaneous heat-insulating effect, expanded polystyrene is often used to hold hot food and drinks. The restriction of the ban to expanded polystyrene means, conversely, that plastic-coated fast-food packaging in which, for example, fast-food products are "wrapped" that do not have a component made of expanded polystyrene are not covered by the ban. This also applies to PET bottles, which are intended for single use. As the name suggests, they are made of polyethylene terephthalate and therefore do not fall under the ban either.

The question remains as to whom this ban aims at. The easiest way to find out is to look at the objective of the ban. The EWKVerbotsV does not prohibit the supply, sale or distribution of disposable plastic products or products made of oxo-degradable plastic already on the market within the supply chain or to customers / consumers. Rather, it prohibits the first placing on the market. It is thus aimed at all those economic operators who manufacture or import described packaging into the European Economic Area.

Packaging manufacturers and importers, but also franchisors and master franchises should therefore check their products as soon as possible and take a look at their contracts and identify any need for adjustment. In particular, thoroughly structured franchise systems (preservation of the uniform identity of the franchise system, e.g., through "the same straws in every restaurant"), but also other (complex) supply chains, should be adapted soon by those responsible.