Will bans on single-use plastic products have more effect than changes in the behaviour of consumers when it comes to relieving the growing problems (such as blocked sewers) caused by inappropriate disposal of such items? European industry urgently needs to make its views known to its politicians.
On 28 May 2018, the European Commission (EC) proposed a Directive to tackle marine litter by introducing a number of measures including the reduction and restriction of selected single-use plastic products, such as disposable balloon sticks, straws, cutlery, plates, cups and food containers. Its proposal is accompanied by a public consultation that will be open to all stakeholders until 23 July 2018. In the meantime, the text of the proposal will be sent to the European Parliament and the European Union (EU)’s Council for examination, the first step in the process of drafting legislation.
The expected date for the final adoption of any resulting Directive is the second half of 2019, although the EC has urged the other institutions to treat this matter as a priority, and to deliver tangible results for Europeans before the elections due in May 2019. In any case, after adoption Member States will have two years to implement the Directive at a national level.
This latest development is a more detailed exposition of one of the promises made in the EC‘s strategy (A European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy), namely a commitment to curb plastic waste, in part by focussing of single-use plastics and fishing gear. The Strategy, published in January 2018, drew widespread support from many bodies representing the plastics industry, including the IK Industrievereinigung Kunststoffverpackungen eV of Bad Homburg, Germany, the Brussels, Belgium-based European Plastics Converters (EuPC) and, with some reservations, the European Bioplastics (EUBP) eV, which has its headquarters in Berlin, Germany.
However, these same bodies have now expressed deep concerns about the latest proposal:
- IK Industrievereinigung Kunststoffverpackungen, for instance, says bans on selected plastic products completely go against the holistic approach of the Strategy, describing the latest announcement as “political gesturing”;
- according to the EuPC, the proposal in its current form is unacceptable and represents a symbolic attack on a category of poorly defined products, defined in a way that is misleading and does not reflect industry classifications. Moreover, the EC is simultaneously asking industry to commit to using more recycled plastic at the same time as seeking to ban certain recyclable products;
- EUBP is more supportive of the proposal, but continues to call for concrete measures regarding the use of sustainable alternative materials.
IK also argues that bans do not address the need to change the public’s attitude to sustainable consumption, without which irresponsible disposal of substitute materials that are potentially more harmful to the environment will continue. This is a theme echoed in the debate about the irresponsible disposal of wet wipes into sewers.
Many industry bodies will doubtless use the consultation period to make their arguments to the EC and you should too. In previous posts here, we have argued for urgent, but holistic action. Whatever your views, now is the time to make them count.