SINGLE-USE PLASTICS
Disposable products banned in the EU from 3 July / Environment associations call for rethink on reusables / EuPC voices criticism / Health risks with “eco” alternatives?
These SUP products are banned in the entire European Union from 3 July (Photo: Panthermedia/Toberto)
Disposable plastic cutlery and plates, cotton swabs and balloon sticks, to-go packaging made of expanded polystyrene – these and other disposable plastic products as well as products made of oxo-degradable plastics may no longer be sold across the EU – apart from residual stocks – 3 July 2021 onward. They can, however, still be produced. The same has been stipulated by the EU single-use plastics (SUP) directive, regulation 2020/2151, from July 2019 (see Plasteurope.com of 28.03.2019 and 10.12.2020).

Apart from that, certain disposable articles for which there are no “ecologically better alternatives” must bear a special label in the European Union (see Plasteurope.com of 19.04.2021).
EuPC sees negative consequences on the EU Single Market
For the European Plastics Converters (EuPC, Brussels / Belgium; www.plasticsconverters.eu) the current status of the legislative processes throughout the EU shows an unprecedented fragmentation among EU member states. “The Commission should have realised the disruptive impact of the SUP directive on businesses and how lengthy national legislative processes can be. Those changes cannot be done overnight and the fragmentation of the EU single market is now an unavoidable scenario having severe consequences on employment and businesses losses in the EU,” said Alexandre Dangis, EuPC managing director.

According to EuPC, the differences among EU states are substantial, both in regard to the timeline of the transposition and the content of the legislative acts. Many countries have already proceeded with the notification to the European Commission of draft texts for the transposition. Among others, France decided to create some distance from the provisions of the directive and, after gathering feedback of many concerned stakeholders, one of the notified texts was recently sent back to the national legislator for amendment, causing further delays. Italy might be the only country to take the questionable decision of excluding bio-based plastic products from the scope of the transposition law, while in Sweden the delay seems to be an unavoidable scenario. Many countries like Romania and Bulgaria have not yet made real steps towards the transposition.

The guidance on SUP rules was only published at the end of May 2021, just one month before the deadline for transposition, causing the document to lose its very raison d’être, says EuPC (see Plasteurope.com of 11.06.2021).

Dangis adds, “Allowing a shift of the deadline as requested by our industry at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic could have granted the EU member states enough time to properly consider all the legislative options, work on harmonisation and properly exploit the clarifications provided by the Guidelines and the other implementing acts still.”

German manufacturers of plastics packaging are, as expected, taking a critical view of the latest measures, too. The criticism of the German association for plastics packaging and films Industrievereinigung Kunststoffverpackungen (IK, Bad Homburg; www.kunststoffverpackungen.de) is directed on the one hand at the EU directive itself and on the other at member states which, unlike Germany, have not implemented the directive by the deadline or have gone beyond its regulations. In Europe, this would in the future lead to a “patchwork of different rules for many types of packaging”, complains Martin Engelmann, CEO of the IK. The IK is also critical of national “insular solutions”.

The entire plastics packaging industry is currently going through an enormous transformation in order to design all packaging to be recyclable and to use more recycled plastics, said Engelmann (see Plasteurope.com of 06.07.2021). Investment in design, new materials and machines was, however, only worthwhile for most medium-sized companies if the new packaging could also be used throughout Europe.

According to a joint statement from PlasticsEurope Deutschland (PED, Frankfurt; www.plasticseurope.org) and the Chemical Industry Association (VCI, Frankfurt; www.vci.de), an efficient use of plastics can aid the transition away from a throw-away society. Ingemar Bühler, managing director of PED, would like to “make it possible to have far more reusables”, with plastics playing a key role. Single-use products should be reduced, irrespective of the material they are made of. The director general of the VCI, Wolfgang Große Entrup, regards the medical sector as an important field of application for single-use plastics solutions.
Environment protection groups call for a reusable strategy for to-go packaging
German environment protection organisation Nabu (Berlin; www.nabu.de) reproaches the EU for having failed until now to “focus on multi-use as the only environmentally friendly alternative to single-use cutlery and to-go packaging, and also failed to develop a comprehensive reusable strategy”. Although the ‘returnable’ requirement that will apply from 2023 is welcomed by Germany’s food and catering trade, criticism is nevertheless levelled at the rules governing exceptions. The environment protection associations also say the reusable variant must be cheaper than the single-use option. Nabu regards single-use materials such as cardboard or biodegradable plastics that are advertised as being “eco-friendly” as a misdirected evasion manoeuvre: “Simply switching to paper cutlery is just as undesirable as switching to single-use aluminium plates.”

Reusable systems should become the standard both for large food containers and for the take-away sector. That is also the order of the day for the German Federation for Environment and Nature Conservation (BUND, Berlin; www.bund.net). The ban on individual plastic products was just the first step towards cleaner seas. “Bottles, lids, plastic bags or sweet packaging also account for a large proportion of the beach litter on German coasts. The EU-wide ban on individual plastic products is therefore important and correct. Effective marine and resource protection can, however, only succeed if fewer single-use products are in circulation overall so that less waste is produced,” says Dorothea Seeger, marine litter expert at BUND.

European marine-protection organisation Seas at Risk (Brussels; www.seas-at-risk.org), has, on an interactive map, compiled more than 150 examples from all over Europe to support the implementation of the EU SUP directive. Furthermore, the global network for Break Free From Plastik has, for every day in July, planned various presentations and solution proposals to avoid “unnecessary plastic and single-use material”.
Harmful substances in plastics-free to-go products
Criticism is nevertheless also levelled at alternatives to SUP products. It is mainly directed at substances in disposable cutlery made of paper, sugar cane or palm leaves – possibly with residues from pesticides – that are a potential health risk and not approved in the EU, as well as potentially carcinogenic chloropropanols and perfluorinated and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) that are used to make food packaging repellent to water, fat and dirt.

This was recently reported by the Federation of German Consumer Associations (VZBV) referring to a study by four European consumer organisations published by the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC). More than half the tested products showed dangerous substances above the recommended guideline. The VZBV is therefore calling for a ban on particularly harmful substances, a registration procedure for food-contact materials, and more money and staff for monitoring foodstuffs.
08.07.2021 Plasteurope.com [248028-0]
Published on 08.07.2021
Kunststoff-Einwegprodukte: Seit 3. Juli gilt das EU-weite VerbotGerman version of this article...

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